Gillian Dowds – Fiena London

Gillian joined the Fiena Members Club in 2020. Having worked in the military and defence sector most of her life, she has some interesting stories to tell and so we invited her to share some of her experiences exclusively with us here.

You spent 10 years in the Royal Navy. What led to this choice and how was your experience?

In all honesty joining the military was a rash decision but one of the best I have ever made. I joined straight out of school because things at home were tough and I was looking for an escape. I learned so many lessons and skills in the Navy you would struggle to pick up anywhere else and for that I'm forever grateful. I have travelled the world and met some amazing people who are still my best friends today. I have been challenged both physically and mentally to breaking point and had to find a way to push through, but all of these things both good and bad made me who I am today and so far I think I turned out ok. I honestly believe the military changed my life for the better.

Can you describe a day in the life of? How did it feel to be a part of that world?

It's very difficult to describe a "day in the life of" because everyday was very different. Some days I could be in the field or at sea for weeks on end on operations in the Middle East or training to deploy to war zones, others weeks you can work 18 hour days conducting disaster relief missions and some days were spent traveling the world with some of the best friends I've ever had

Many people would think the navy is male orientated ; how did you navigate as a woman?

The Navy is male dominated but there are more females than most people think doing some fantastic roles. There were times I felt I had too work twice as hard and had be twice as good as anyone to be taken seriously, but this seemed to be due to age rather than gender, but it could have been a bit of both. I chose to work hard and be the best I could, nobody could argue with that. Due to the job I did I was usually the only female in the team but by just pulling my weight and showing I was just as capable the bonds I made in those teams are still some of the strongest I have today. I think at times they even forgot I was a woman.

How was the transition from military to civilian life ?

The transition to civilian life was more difficult than I had ever imagined. The military was all I had ever really known and it's not just a job change it's a lifestyle change. The reason I ended up leaving the military is a little complicated but it all started with a new role within the military I wanted. I had most of the right skills and knowledge for the position but at the time (things may have changed now) it was a male only role and they would not let me have it. It was a really difficult pill to swallow when you have worked hard for something and the thing blocking you is your gender. That was a few years back but I know now the military have reassessed some previously male only roles like the one I wanted and opened these up to women including being on the front line and working on submarines. The fact they are looking at this and changing is a huge step forward for both women and the modern military.

How is life different in general now? What do you work on now?

Life is completely different for me now. I have been a civilian now for 6 years. I haven't strayed too far from what I know I still working in the Defence Industry supporting our armed forces just from the civilian side of the fence. Due to the nature of some of the work do I can't go into to much detail but in the last 6 years I have worked on a multitude of things including digital deliveries to warships, cyber security and working on different systems for both submarines and warships. I go home every night, I wear civilian clothes to work and I can plan my life knowing I won't be deployed at short notice. And as much as I love these things sometimes there is still the odd time I still struggle with civilian life with and wonder if I made the right decision to leave.

What’s next for you?

Next for me is a brand new challenge on the 31st January I will take up the Managing Director role at Raytheon UK C4I (Command, Control, Communication, Computers and Intelligence) which I am very much looking forward to. C4I systems provide battlefield information for commanders to make decisions and control military forces to accomplish missions. I will not be the only female MD at Raytheon which is comforting, I'm unsure how many females if any have held the C4I post previously but I am confident all my peers both male and female will help me settle in my role.

Think Gillian sounds like your kind of gal!? Why not  Apply to join the Fiena Club and meet Gillian at one of the events! 


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