“If someone says you’re not good enough, prove them wrong.”
Shell Neil is a maintenance manager for Coca-Cola and earlier in her career was the only woman on an oil rig at the tender age of 21. She talks to us about life in engineering and following your dreams.
Hi Shell, it’s great to have you here. Can you tell us more about your role at Coca-Cola?
I’m a maintenance manager, based at a factory in North London. We have five production lines here; a glass line, two large bottled lines and two small botted lines, covering pretty much every product – including Coke, Sprite, Fanta, Diet Coke, Dr Pepper and Oasis. I run the team of engineers responsible for the maintenance of the machines, ensuring they meet standards so that the line is continuously running and we deal with any breakdowns efficiently to minimise downtime.
How did you get into your current role?
I’ve been here for just under a year, and before that I was an engineering manager at Crossrail, working at Whitechapel station. I’ve generally been in quite heavy industries: before Crossrail I worked for Shell and BP offshore on the oil rig. I was an inspection engineer, so more of a hands-on role – sometimes you’d get a bit dirty! Then when I moved to Crossrail I was managing big teams and big contracts. I got approached by Coca-Cola last year; not for a specific role but I ended up having an interview with the European engineering director and the UK engineering director to gauge where I would fit into the team. Then 6 months later this role came up and they placed me here.
What does a typical day look like?
Every morning we have a meeting to review the last 24 hours and the mechanical efficiency of the machines – whether we’ve had any had any breakdowns or stoppages, and if so, what we need to do to rectify this. I monitor the line day to day, so if there are issues I’ll go and poke my head into the machine. I’ve never been in the food industry before, so things are still quite new to me and I’m trying to learn as much about our machinery as possible. Then once a week I sit down with my reliability engineers and look at the efficiencies of their lines and see if we can improve anything. There’s also long-term planning: the lines get shut down periodically so essential maintenance can be carried out, so we manage the schedule and budgets for that. Mostly my role is preventative stuff rather than fixing machines that are broken.
What’s the best thing about your job?
When you get to the end of the week and you know you’ve achieved something! It’s so satisfying when you look through the reports and the lines are running at 100%. Or when you have a little niggle, but you solve it with the team and then everything’s running perfectly – then you’re like ‘my guys did really well’. You get job satisfaction in this role, I really enjoy it.
Do you work with many women?
There are some women here, not many but definitely the most I’ve ever worked with! When I worked on the rig aged 21 I was the only woman there which was interesting! It was great though; once you realise you’re in a male-dominated environment, you adapt. Although I’ve experienced some quite old-fashioned thinking in the past – people thinking that women don’t belong in engineering – that’s not really happened at Coca-Cola. It’s very modern and inclusive here. They’ve got a great diversity culture and a huge drive for getting women in which is great. Although I think it’s important that women aren’t brought on just for numbers but because they’re good at their job and passionate about what they’re doing.
For you, what makes Coca-Cola stand out as an employer?
They really look after you and help you grow. You might think that aiming for a director role in a year in a large company is impossible, but here’s it’s limitless. My mentors and boss are so supportive with career progression – they help you on whatever journey you want to take. And when you have goals you really go the extra mile and put in effort – you want to show them you can do it. Also without sounding too cheesy, it’s like a big family here! I talk to people on sites across the UK and Europe, and everyone’s just happy to help each other.
What advice would you give girls who are considering going into a role like yours?
I would say follow your dreams, whether you want to be an engineer or a fashion designer. If it’s what you want to do, don’t let anyone put barriers up in front of you, or try and turn you away by saying say that women shouldn’t be doing this, or you’re not good enough. If someone says you’re not good enough, use that and prove them wrong. That’s what I did: when a teacher of mine told me I could never be an engineer, I got my head down and did it. Never let anyone put any doubts in your head – if you want it bad enough, you can definitely do it.
What are women saying about working in STEM? Find out HERE: https://www.forwardladies.com/stem-survey-report/