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INTERVIEW: RMI Pressure Systems’ Kathryn Poke talks gender equality in the pump sector

World Pumps meets RMI Pressure Systems’ Kathryn Poke to find out more about her role as general manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and how she is advocating for gender equality in the pump sector.

Kathryn Poke, RMI Pressure Systems’ general manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).
Kathryn Poke, RMI Pressure Systems’ general manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

RMI Pressure Systems provides high-pressure and high-volume fluid pumping stations for industrial and longwall mining markets.

WP: Tell us more about your career to date.

KP: After completing my apprenticeship at a company called Tenmat – a manufacturer of advanced materials and components – I qualified as an electrical maintenance electrician and joined Holden & Brooke, which was subsequently acquired by the Armstrong Group. I worked in the engineering team before moving into product development, and later became product manager before joining group subsidiary RMI Pressure Systems.

I then moved into the director of engineering role, which encompassed both systems engineering as well as research and development. Last year, I was appointed to my current position as RMI’s general manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

My initial entry point into this field was through a Higher National Diploma in Electrical Engineering, followed by a Bachelor of Engineering degree at the University of Manchester.


WP: What does your current role involve?

KP: My role is part of RMI Pressure System’s expansion strategy in new and existing markets, while I continue as the company’s global head of engineering. This means there is a wide scope of work from customer engagement and sales to supply chain and operations.

Key to this role is promoting our sustainability contribution to the market, particularly the energy and water efficiency that our high-pressure reciprocating pumps deliver. We work closely with customers in mining, steel and other industries to implement their sustainability ambitions. Water is a growing sustainability issue in most regions of the world, and our equipment allows water savings in descaling operations of steel plants, for example.

There is also important work to do outside my in-company role, in terms of promoting the broader industry. I do this through my involvement as a council member of the Association of British Mining Equipment Companies (ABMEC).


WP: How did it feel as a female building a career in a male dominated environment?

KP: In my engineering classes at university, I was often the only woman – and generally received very little encouragement in the field of study that I had chosen. When I started my career, two electricians who were nearing retirement refused to train me. They argued that no sooner would I get qualified than I would leave to start a family. This was really a common view of the older generation back then, when the public expectation was for the woman to stay home and look after children.

In the period since then, much has changed for the better. For instance, there are many more schoolgirls who are interested in engineering and related careers which have previously been – and many still are – quite male-dominated fields. The actual proportion of women remains low, though, so there is plenty of room for improvement.


WP: Are you seeing a move toward more gender equality in the pump sector and in engineering in general?

KP: There are certainly more women qualified in engineering disciplines, and this trend will hopefully continue. That said, the proportion of women in these sectors is still relatively low – at around 16% – and reports suggest that there is not always steady growth. There needs to be more encouragement of young women who excel in the required subject areas at school and university.

I really support the growing focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in many schools, as this helps to raise interest of female students in pursuing opportunities in the engineering sector.


WP: How does RMI encourage gender equality?

KP: RMI’s encouragement of gender equality is shown through the women in its management team, which also includes Sabrina Zhang, who is our general manager in China. We also work towards a culture of gender equality within the business, to ensure that there is a conducive environment for women to express themselves – and be heard – to the same extent as their male counterparts.


WP: What advice would you give to young females considering a career in engineering?

KP: I would encourage young women who are looking at an engineering career not to expect any special treatment – as everyone has a job to do – but to be bold in their ambitions as anything is achievable with hard work. It is also important to be curious about your work and its context, as this helps you to understand your environment and to continuously improve how things are done.


WP: How can the pump industry in general help encourage more women into engineering roles?

KP: Among the initiatives that encourage women into the sector will be the focus on STEM subjects, and greater awareness about the exciting careers that the sector can offer. It is also important for potential entrants to see women role models in senior positions the industry, and this requires a better retention of women so they can develop their careers to more visible roles. Research suggests that not enough women are retained in the sector, leading to a recent fall in female numbers in the engineering and tech workforce.


WP: Is there anything else you would like to add?

KP: There remain a range of challenges to women wanting to enter the engineering world, including the attitudes of certain people and cultures. We all need to continue encouraging women to enter this industry and support them so they do not feel intimidated.

Some old-fashioned views about women staying home to look after the family do persist, but women today can have the career they choose within engineering – even while having a family and home. They shouldn’t have to choose one over the other.