“I am among those who think that science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: He’s like a child placed before natural phenomena which impress him like a fairy tale.”

So said Marie Curie. And as a two-time recipient of the Nobel Prize, once each for physics and chemistry, she ought to know. Curie stands as perhaps the iconic woman of STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—but she does not stand alone.

Nevertheless, there is room to grow. According to an EU study in 2018, 24 percent of science and engineering professionals are women. As recently as 2012, only 12.6 percent of female graduates in Europe specialized in STEM areas compared to 37.5 percent of male graduates. This imbalance is troubling, particularly when the European Commission currently projects a shortage of 900,000 workers in the IT sector alone by 2020.

The good news: There are a host of women blazing new trails in STEM fields throughout the aviation industry. Indeed, increasing the number of women challenging this trend is fundamental for any organization seeking to innovate its way to success.

Avio Aero Rivalta Quality Manager Angela Tessa began her career as a design engineer and then became a program manager overseeing engine programs for many important Avio customers over the years, including Pratt & Whitney, Rolls Royce, Eurojet, Airbus, and Sikorsky. Her experience is a story of hard work and determination, along with well-deserved success. We sat down to discuss her career and how she has been able to find the beauty in science and technology.

How long have you been in this position and what does your job entail?

I’ve been in this position for almost two years. Basically, I deal with the quality of the products that are made in Rivalta. I am also responsible for the Customer Quality activities, so I am the customer’s first interface for these issues.

When you were a child what did you dream of being when you grew up?

My dream was to be an archaeologist: I loved ancient history. I figured I would dig somewhere around the world and discover archaeological finds.

What did you study at university and how did you make this choice?

I received my degree in mechanical engineering from the I have always been passionate about scientific subjects, and when I finished high school I wanted to enroll in medicine or engineering. Then, almost as a joke, I took the selection tests for mechanical engineering. I passed the test with an excellent rank and at that point the choice was made. Out of 300 students majoring in mechanics there were about 20 women—less than 10 percent of the total—but we were very determined!

Have you worked in other industries or in other countries other than Italy? 

I have always worked in aviation. When I was working in engineering, I spent two years at GE’s plant in Lynn, Massachusetts. It was a wonderful experience. I have wonderful memories and many friends from it!

What made you leave “office work” to face the challenge of working in the factory?

I wanted to get closer to the heart of production, where our product is born—to be in the factory and work with the operators, the production engineers, and the designers; to identify together the best solutions for making the product. In short, I was interested in getting tangible and concrete results in a short time—a real satisfaction for a Quality Manager!

Who has inspired and guided you during your professional career? 

I have met a lot of people throughout my 20-year-long career. The person I remember most fondly is an engineering colleague, older than I. When I was a novice program manager, he said to me one day, “Angela, you have to make your job your hobby. That’s the only way you are going be really happy with what you do. Always seek your own way, make changes if necessary, but never stop.” This approach has given me a lot of courage and that was the beginning of my wonderful adventure. Even today, the drive for my choices is the passion for what I do.

What is the most stimulating aspect of your work?

The quest for perfection, which starts from the depth of analysis. We must always be the best. Customers must be satisfied at all times and they must be aware that they cannot find a better product than the one we produce. Starting from a possible problem and analyzing all the production phases, identifying the root cause and implementing all the following corrective or predictive actions is a very stimulating job.

In the workplace, is there a phrase you often repeat?

I always like to stress the importance of teamwork for finding the right solution to every problem, addressing and analyzing any errors in a constructive manner.

From your point of view what can companies address to facilitate gender equality? 

I believe that more attention needs to be given to work-life balance issues. Help women who have a family and children to manage, as in my case, to find the balance between work commitments and family life. This ensures greater peace of mind and satisfaction for employees, which translates into successful results for the company.

What advice can you give a young woman who wants to choose an education and a career in STEM?

Don’t be afraid to take the risk or to challenge the system and believe in your abilities. Follow your passion and focus on your goals with courage and determination. Much of your success depends on you!