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Natalie Atherton

Business & Industry

The mechanics of gender balance

As an employer who supports gender balance and inclusivity, Sodexo was proud to see apprentice turned Zone Operation manager, Natalie Atherton, announced as one of 2019’s Top 50 Women in Engineering.

Over the last 13 years Natalie has worked hard in her career to support the promotion of engineering as a profession and has acted as a role model for young people wanting to enter the profession.

WE50 2019 - WESAs recognition for her achievements, this year Natalie’s hard work saw her become one of 2019’s Top 50 Women in Engineering (WE50) by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES).

The WE50 is released as part of celebrations for International Women in Engineering Day. This year, the list was published with a theme of ‘Current and Former Apprentices’ to highlight the opportunities that engineering apprenticeships offer women.

To further understand the ways Sodexo can help improve gender balance across its UK and Ireland business, we asked Natalie as a role model and a former apprentice for her opinions and insight on gender equality and how it has affected her, her career and the industry.


A journey of self-discovery

Natalie joined Sodexo in 2016 as an apprentice engineer with client AstraZeneca. She currently holds the role of Zone Operation manager, a senior position within Sodexo, supporting a state of the art hypoxic high bay warehouse facility with 12 direct and indirect reports. She is responsible for all aspects of integrated Facilities Management (FM), including support of automation.

Natalie recognises that her personal development has evolved to reflect the nature of her working environment and well-established role.

I’ve hardened my persona since completing my apprenticeship; I used to be very quiet and reserved but as time has progressed, I now often find myself challenging upwards. As a manager, I want to make sure that any action being taken is in the best interest of the business and its people.

The added responsibility of becoming a manger with personnel related responsibility has seen Natalie become aware of her surroundings and the impact she can have on the business and those who work within it.

I thrive on knowing that I’m making a meaningful difference to how we work every day, and by team members knowing that I’m someone that will listen to their problems and fix them, regardless of whether it’s an engineering problem, general work or life problem.

This is just the beginning for Natalie as she sees herself continuing to develop both her career and personal life over the next few years. Her next career steps will see her finalise her chartership and pursue becoming a Fellow of Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE). Natalie is also looking at nurturing the talent of fellow engineers she works with by arranging a number of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) sessions through the Engineering Council. In her personal life Natalie hopes to start a family with her wife.


It starts with one

Natalie Atherton - AstraZenecaSince joining Sodexo, Natalie has been involved in the setup of a women’s engineering network at AstraZeneca. Supporting activities in her local community include working with Macclesfield College, supporting the University of Central Lancashire, coaching work experience students and taking part in Imagineering - an engineering led after school club where pupils would lean how to make small battery powered or mechanical toys.

Taking part in these extra-initiatives has helped Natalie cement her position as a role model within the engineering profession, winning a deserved place on this year’s WE50. Natalie’s advice to those joining the profession would be to build a strong support network to support your own wellbeing:

Be strong minded, create S.M.A.R.T. goals and build a support network around you. That might be through chatting with colleagues that you can trust, it might be through social media, it could be having a mentor, or it might be setting up your own network of engineers so that you can share learning and encourage one another.

As a previous apprentice, Natalie is keen to make the benefits of apprenticeships known whilst highlighting the importance of parents/guardians/family/friend’s encouragement of young children to consider careers that are not always typically associated with their gender. These key messages are something Natalie was keen to showcase in a podcast she produced discussing her working experience for the SoTogether network - a Sodexo UK & Ireland employee network created to promote gender balance. You can listen to this podcast here.


Fixing the future

Engineering is still an industry dominated by men, with women making up only 12.6% of the 6.1 million engineering roles in the UK.* Since starting her career, Natalie has seen a slow shift in the perceptions of women practicing engineering but feels more can be done.

Natalie is really looking forward to a point in time when gender is not even referenced in role and believes that a route cause solution is education:

I’d like to see genuine gender parity, to the point where someone is surprised if a person’s gender is referred to. We can help get there by promoting gender balance to school children and parents. I don’t think that this is a quick fix but it’s something that needs to be ingrained in people from an early age to help change the stigma of women’s abilities within the workplace.

As someone who is looking to start a family, one thing that concerns Natalie are the struggles parents can face coming back to work.

I’d also say that it important for women to feel like they can take time out for families and not feel like their career will end. I know that I would be very conflicted if I had to choose between a family and progressing my career.

Natalie Atherton - AstraZenecaAs an inclusive employer, Sodexo encourages new parents to take time away from work to support their family before, during and after this important life moment. As such, Sodexo offers multiple options to parents and/or carers when coming back to work helping to alleviate all that comes with becoming a parental figure for the first, second, or fourteenth time. The Sodexo policies in place are all inclusive and are created to support all types of family units.

To further support future or current working parents, in 2018 a Facebook Sodexo Working Parents group was created to help enhance the support already on offer. Set up by parents for parents, the group aims to support working parents and carers to children maintain quality of life, from becoming a parent/carer to promoting work-life balance and career development.

With 1.8 million engineers and technicians needed in the UK by 2025*, Sodexo continues to embrace gender balance by supporting and developing future talent to help fill this much needed skills shortage.

In 2019, Sodexo was recognised for its commitment to gender inclusion by being named as one of The Times Top 50 Employers for Women for a sixth consecutive year. The Times Top 50 list recognises employers who make gender equality part of their business strategy at all levels and have committed to creating inclusive workplace cultures and women’s career progression. To read more about this achievement, please click here.


More information

To register your interest in an apprenticeship at Sodexo, please click here to start your journey.

If you are a Sodexo employee and you want to register your interest in the SoTogether employee network, please click here. The network also runs an FM hub focusing on promoting and developing women in FM and STEM roles.


About the Women’s Engineering Society (WES)

The WES is a charity which started in 1919 at the end of the First World War supporting women to achieve their potential as engineers, applied scientists and leaders and to reward excellence. The WES also encourages and promotes the education, study and application of engineering by working with organisations and influencers to promote gender diversity and equality in the workplace.


*Source: The Guardian - How changing attitudes are closing the gender gap in engineering: https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2019/jun/26/how-changing-attitudes-are-closing-the-gender-gap-in-engineering

August 01, 2019

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