As consultants at RH Marine, Ana-Maria Bucurenciu and Despoina Mitropoulou specialise in Power and Hybrid systems. They are the only two women in the company's electrical consultancy department in Schiedam. They get noticed: 'It takes time to change the mentality in the world of engineering, and that includes gender roles. But make no mistake: women can make fine engineers.'
Ana-Maria never had any doubts that she would go down this road. 'Both of my parents are engineers. I always enjoyed listening to them talking about work. Engineering grew on me; and the fact that I excelled at maths and physics opened the door to this fascinating world. After my Bachelor in Engineering in Bucharest, Romania, I completed a Master in Sustainable Energy and Technology at Delft University of Technology.'
Despoina moved to the Netherlands for the same Master programme after five years studying electrical engineering in Athens, Greece. 'And then we both joined RH Marine in 2012. It was my first fulltime job in engineering', recalls Despoina, 'I had no experience and I was working in a foreign country. But I got support from colleagues who really made me feel I could make a success of it.'
Despoina Mitropoulou (left) and Ana-Maria Bucurenciu
Women from abroad
RH Marine delivers electrical and automation systems for complex defence, safety & security ships, yachts and special vessels. There are more than 300 people working at their offices in Schiedam on making ships smarter and easier to operate. As women from outside the Netherlands, Despoina and Ana-Maria brought diversity to the company on several fronts. They fitted in very well, with the company collective playing an important role.
Most weeks, they work in the office but they also go offshore to provide support for different types of vessels when necessary. 'It's a hard job offshore', admits Despoina. 'You have to keep working until the job is done. It's not always easy to be the only woman on a big platform.' But there are enjoyable sides, laughs Ana-Maria: 'How many people can say they go to work on a helicopter? The learning curve is quite steep offshore. You learn a lot and it's an enriching experience. The first time I saw one of my projects working as planned, I was so proud!
'But office work can be just as rewarding. One of my most impressive projects involved the Pioneering Spirit. We researched the impact of the Jacket Lift System on power stability. The result was an in-depth study with different simulated scenarios and I found it fascinating! Obviously, this was an office simulation but even so, I can still say that I've worked on the largest ship in the world.'
'Our company sells complete on-board power systems,' explains Despoina. 'In our Power and Hybrid department, there are ten consultants who work on the more demanding and complicated problems. We provide support for internal project teams and external clients. Engineers on board call us when ships have problems they find difficult to solve. Next week, for example, I will be going to our first hybrid ferry in Scotland. As well as tackling problems, we also help with the design process before a ship actually goes into operation. We conduct innovative studies, make calculations and get involved in the conceptual design: the thinking behind working systems.'
Women and engineering
Women are still in the minority in engineering but Despoina and Ana-Maria want to encourage other women to join them. 'We are still struggling for diversity. But when there are more women, this won't be an issue any longer. It will just be the way things are. If you enjoy maths and physics, this is a great job: it's challenging and fulfilling.' explains Despoina.
'Diversity adds value to the company', thinks Ana-Maria. 'Engineering is an interesting, challenging and rewarding job. So don't let stereotypes get in your way. The first time you go on board, you will certainly get noticed by the crew and that can be challenging, but things are already more relaxed the second time around. The first steps are always more difficult.'