WFTV In The Spotlight with… Naomi Climer, engineer and diversity champion
Naomi Climer is an award-winning engineer who has spent her career in broadcasting and communications, working her way up into leadership roles for companies including the BBC, ITV and Sony.
Naomi has a strong interest in diversity issues and has been an active campaigner for gender diversity within engineering in the UK. In 2014, she was awarded the International Association of Broadcast Manufacturers (IABM) Industry Woman of the Year. In 2015, she became the first woman President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology in its 145 year existence. Naomi was listed in the Daily Telegraph and Women’s Engineering Society 50 Most Influential Women in UK Engineering in 2016 and in Computer Weekly’s 50 Most Influential Women in UK IT 2015 and 2016.
WFTV decided to catch up with Naomi on the week she was appointed to the National Film and Television School’s Board of Governors, where she will be working with the School on the introduction of their new Production Technology MA.
“Engineering is a great career for women even while they’re still in the minority because your peers tend to be more interested in the work you can do than your gender.”
You started your career as an engineer at the BBC back in 1987. Tell us a bit about what it was like for a woman in engineering at that time.
When I joined the BBC as an engineer, it didn’t occur to me that there wouldn’t be many women, but we were around the 1-2 percent level at that time. Being in such a minority wasn’t really much of an issue other than that people didn’t expect to see women engineers – so they were sometimes a little surprised when I showed up to fix something. But engineering is a great career for women even while they’re still in the minority because your peers tend to be more interested in the work you can do than your gender.
You hadn’t always wanted to work in engineering, so how did you find yourself in that role at the BBC?
The BBC ran a ‘positive action’ campaign to try to attract more diversity into engineering. They’d developed a new graduate apprentice programme which took in graduates from disciplines other than engineering (my degree was chemistry) as a way to attract some different talent. It was my sister that spotted the ad and encouraged me to apply – I hadn’t considered engineering up to that point, but I knew as soon as I started that it was for me.
What do you think are the key skills and attributes someone needs to possess in order to succeed in an engineering role, specifically within the creative industries?
Engineering is all about problem solving. The type of people that are constantly suggesting ways to improve things or different ways to do things often have good potential to be engineers. One of the joys of engineering is that every day is different, there’s always something new to learn or work on, so flexibility is also a helpful attribute. The creative industry tends to give the engineers wonderful problems to solve like how to film a car commercial before the car is built (answer – augmented reality), and the problems will often involve working with teams from other disciplines – for example, the ‘fake news’ problem will need significant engineering input, but will also need editorial, legal, commercial and other disciplines to create a complete solution.
“Although the employers could all do much better, we’re starting the unhelpful stereotypes in childhood, so we need parents and teachers to step up to a different portrayal of the profession.”
You worked your way up at the BBC to become Controller of Technology at BBC News, and have gone on to hold a number of top leadership roles within various companies, such as ITV and Sony. How did you find making that step up into leading people and working at a more senior level, particularly in such a male dominated arena?
To be honest, I was never wildly ambitious, I just wanted to do everything as well as I could and to keep learning. (I still feel that way today.) The move to leadership felt like a natural step at some point although it took a while to get used to not having quite such tangible things to do on a daily basis! I stopped noticing that I was in a male dominated arena early in my career, it became normal although it would have been preferable if it was more balanced. As anyone does, I had to adapt my style to fit in, but I had to do that less the more senior I got.
You’ve been working in the industry for three decades now, what changes have you seen in terms of gender diversity in that time?
I’ve seen far fewer changes than I would have liked to. When I started out, I assumed that the gender balance would naturally improve over time. Sadly, it hasn’t changed that much which is really frustrating. Some things have changed – discrimination laws are clearer and more respected and I think the workplace isn’t quite as challenging for minorities as it used to be, but there are still issues. Although the employers could all do much better, we’re starting the unhelpful stereotypes in childhood, so we need parents and teachers to step up to a different portrayal of the profession.
“Research shows that diverse teams are more innovative and I’m convinced that the technology outcomes for this planet will be better if the teams working on it are more diverse.”
Throughout your career you have tried to instigate change and encourage more women into engineering. Why does it matter that we see more women in engineering?
I have a couple of reasons. The first is that studies show we’ll have a massive shortfall of engineers in the coming decades. If we’re not tapping into the talent of half the population, we’re clearly missing out on an easy solution to the shortfall!
The second reason is that technology is so integrated with life now (and will be more so with the internet of things) that it really matters that technology is designed, built and improved by diverse teams able to reflect the needs of the whole population. Research shows that diverse teams are more innovative and I’m convinced that the technology outcomes for this planet will be better if the teams working on it are more diverse.
I also believe that diverse teams are better for everyone – good inclusivity should benefit the whole workforce, not just the minorities.
What do you think is the most pressing thing that the industry should be doing to help tackle the gender gap in engineering?
One of the reasons that I think we’ve had this problem for so long is that there isn’t just one thing that needs fixing. Actually, there are a raft of things that the industry should be consistently doing including paying attention to their language and public image (websites and advertising), asking recruiters to find qualified women candidates for every post, showcasing women role models, publicising their diversity statistics (recruitment, retention, promotion, pay) on a regular basis, working with educators and talking about their commitment to closing the gap.
“It’s helpful to see how different women operate in leadership to find your own style, but it has been hard to spot women role models within my field as there haven’t been many senior women in my workplaces.”
Role models are so important and at WFTV we strongly believe in Geena Davis’ mantra ‘If she can’t see it, she can’t be it’. Who have been your role models during your career?
It’s helpful to see how different women operate in leadership to find your own style, but it has been hard to spot women role models within my field as there haven’t been many senior women in my workplaces. My mother has been a huge role model just by being a strong, determined woman. I’ve been inspired by the stories of some of the early women engineers such as Ada Lovelace and Hertha Ayrton as well as more modern examples of women leaders like Sheryl Sandberg and the Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi. I’ve also seen great and emotionally intelligent leadership from some of my male bosses too. I’m a fan of ‘cherry picking’ the traits that resonate from many different sources as it’s hard to spot someone who operates exactly as you’d like to.
Finally, you’ve won numerous awards during your career and have broken down barriers for other women. Of all your achievements, what are you most proud of?
I’m incredibly proud of my whole career – I’ve loved it all! It’s really hard to pick just one thing to be proud of as there have been so many highlights such as being on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour – it’s a programme I’ve listened to since I was a kid at home with my mum. I guess I’m the most proud of becoming the first woman President of the IET in its 145 year existence. Breaking that barrier was long overdue for the Institution and it was an honour to be the one that did it.
More about the NFTS Production Technology MA
Naomi has recently been appointed to the National Film and Television School’s Board of Governors and will be working with the School on the introduction of the new Production Technology MA.
The MA is a full-time two-year course aimed at combating the current skills deficit in the sector and is delivered in partnership with BT, who will be offering a scholarship to support a student through their studies.
The MA is designed for students who wish to attain the skills required to support all aspects of production technology in live and recorded environments. The NFTS is looking for two types of students – people with a background in computer science who are interested in applying that to film and television production, and people with a background in production who are interested in getting involved with the technological underpinnings of the process.
If you are interested in finding out more, the NFTS is holding a free taster workshop on the 18th May – sign up at www.nfts.co.uk/productiontech.