Trained electrical engineer Caroline Phillips is the Deputy Managing Director of Middleton Group, where she plays a key part in supporting sustainable energy in a variety of communities. Here, Caroline shares her journey into the sector and her motivation for joining the clean energy transition and gives valuable advice on the challenges faced by women entering the industry.
Tell us a bit about yourself personally and professionally.
I’m a trained electrical engineer and mum to a young boy. Prior to settling in Melbourne, I had the opportunity to combine my passion for travel and exploration with my work. I relocated to Switzerland and from there worked on projects all over the world. I worked in the mining industry at that time, with my main goal of driving energy efficiency in power usage by optimisation of connections and process.
Where do you work and what do you do?
I am Deputy Managing Director of Middleton Group, running the Engineering and Design Practice Area. Middleton Group is an employee-owned company with more than 70 staff and offices in Melbourne and Sydney; we share a vision to create a sustainable energy future for our communities. We work in transport, renewables, water, power utilities and industrial, and our specialist services include project management, construction management, community energy development, embedded generation studies, earthing systems and grid connection.
Each day, my aim is to support our team to grow and develop in their delivery of projects to meet our clients’ needs, while exceeding our clients’ expectations. A key aspect is ensuring alignment of what we do with our broader company vision of a sustainable energy future for our communities.
How did you get into the renewable energy industry/what attracted you to the industry?
Throughout my early career in electrification of mines, I was always working towards an efficient and clean energy future. I could see that more could be improved within energy supply, starting with other areas first, which could then flow through. Leaving the world, a better place for future generations is really important to me, and where better to make progress on that than in the clean energy sector?
What do you like most about your job/the renewable energy industry?
The variety. Working in a power-focused consultancy where energy is at the fore enables us to see the whole picture and help facilitate progress across the board from generator to load. There is so much going on in the industry – it’s an exciting time to be part of it.
I also love seeing the energy and drive of the new generation of engineers and supporting them to reach their goals in shaping the future.
What have been the biggest challenges for you as a woman working in a male dominated industry?
Probably always being unique, and not quite fitting in. Also, what feels like having to prove yourself time and time again. It’s like starting on the back foot with people’s assumptions about what you can do and why you are there (on a project, in a meeting etc). Historically, the environment hasn’t been set up for female engineers – and even more so on site-based roles. Apart from people feeling threatened by your appearance and needing to be on ‘better behaviour’, the facilities (toilets) aren’t always available.
We have a way to go in the culture of some environments, but the progress over the past 20 years has been significant, and I am so inspired by the cohort of future leaders who are normalising gender diversity in engineering.
What do you think would encourage more women to enter the clean energy sector?
Breaking the assumption that women think and exist differently (or aren’t good at maths –facepalm 😉). All people are different. It’s the same as men in caring roles. We are all people with a diverse range of talents. It’s important that the messaging to young women is that they can be an important part of the energy transition in all types of roles. The more we, as competent women engineers, get airtime, the more accepted we will be.
What advice do you have for women looking to enter the clean energy sector?
Do it! It’s such a fantastic sector to be part of. There is a wide range of work to be done, and a place for everyone to pull together to get it done.
What do you wish you were told when you first started out in your career?
You can do it. It took me a long time to build my confidence.
Trust your instincts. This can be quite difficult, perhaps more so for women in a male-dominated environment, because we are walking a line, finding a balance between being ourselves and fitting in. Luckily, I am extremely determined, and I have always pushed back and spoken up. While I still take knocks today, I’m much more comfortable being myself and speaking up more readily on behalf of myself and others.