Leading the way for women in engineering

To mark International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) we spoke with Hayley Thorne, who took a leap of faith to join Smiths Detection as the company’s first ever female UK Service Manager. Despite no technical background, Hayley’s wealth of operational experience proved ideal for this role.

Hayley started her career as a Security Officer at Luton Airport handling a range of jobs from manual searches to screening vehicles and evaluating security X-ray images. During her 11 years at the airport, she moved on to more senior positions – shift supervisor; optimising security operations via continuous improvement programmes; and finally, Project & Equipment Manager with responsibility for the CAPEX budget.

“Well aware of the company’s global footprint and reputation, I was very proud to be selected as its first female Service Manager in the UK – and to lead the way for others to follow…...”

Having always worked in a predominantly male environment, Hayley was not at all fazed at the prospect of managing a team of mainly male service engineers – she was, however, concerned about not being a trained engineer.

“I was chosen for my operational skills. My job was to ensure the engineers have everything they need and our customers are happy. Nevertheless, my lack of technical knowledge concerned me and my first year was a very challenging and steep learning curve! I look at things from a different angle which I think is a very positive attribute and if I ever need any technical support, the other Service Managers are happy to help. In return I can support them with my expertise in different areas.”

In 2022, Hayley was promoted to her current position of Regional Service Manager covering the Southwest of England. She is now ultimately responsible for servicing Heathrow and Gatwick airports plus a range of customers in aviation, ports & borders, urban security and defence.

Making Safety Seen – 2023 INWED theme

“My team often works in airport downtime which is usually in the early hours of the morning and in areas with limited mobile phone reception. They regularly travel and work alone with few people around in the vast expanse of the airport. Working on Lone Working Safety and introducing the latest digital solution has undoubtedly been one of my most rewarding projects.”

Engineers can log into the app when leaving home and log out when they return. The destination, nature of the job, location in the airport and estimated timescale are all registered. A tracking feature notes where the engineer is and when in a reception blackspot, has the last known position. If there is no movement after the job should have finished, the 24/7/365 call centre will first try phoning the engineer and then, if necessary, escalate through appropriate airport channels. The solution provider also has direct access to local emergency services.

“It’s fitting that this new solution was introduced in 2023, coinciding with the INWED Making Safety Seen theme. Initially launched in the UK, Ireland and Israel, discussions are already underway to expand it into further Smiths Detection territories. I am also looking at the possibility of integrating the app into the service admin platform.”

100% empowerment

Smiths Detection is committed to celebrating and embracing diversity. Conversations around equality are ongoing and always encouraged. At no time has Hayley ever felt inadequate due to her gender, age or lack of engineering background. 

“This company sets an excellent example and across the industry in general, I do believe things are moving in the right direction and gender is less of a barrier. The focus today is more on what you can bring to the role and I think I’m a perfect example of that – a young woman right in the centre of the engineering operation in an engineering company and I feel 100% empowered! Bring it on……..”