Jaz Rabadia is Energy Manager at Debenhams Plc, a leading international multichannel retailer operating in over 160 stores in the UK and Republic of Ireland. Jaz was the youngest person in the UK to be awarded Chartered Energy Manager status from the Energy Institute. Through her role as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Ambassador, she is keen to raise the awareness of energy and engineering management careers with students, to create a pipeline of future energy professionals.
Tell us about your journey to where you are today
Like most students, I had no idea of what I wanted to do when I ‘grew up’. I chose engineering mainly because I wanted to keep my career options open and it seemed to tie in quite nicely with my A-levels in maths, design technology, chemistry and sports science.
I knew a degree in engineering would impress future employers and that there was a real shortage of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) skills in the UK. I read up about engineering and realised how important it is and how it helps better the lives of people all around the world. I knew then that by studying engineering, I could also help to make a difference.
Whilst studying for my degree at City University London, I worked part time as a checkout assistant in my local Sainsbury’s store. In the second year of my degree I took additional modules in Energy Management and Renewable Energy and it was then that I saw how engineering could be applied to make a difference for the worlds future energy demands. When it was time to start writing my dissertation rather than take on the project title I was given (‘’A thermodynamic analysis of the combustion engine’’), I decided to create my own project (‘’The energy utilisation and management at Sainsbury’s’’). It seemed perfect, applying my engineering principles to a real life challenge; energy management in the workplace – and above all I could do my dissertation during paid working hours!
Once complete, I presented my study and its finding to Sainsbury’s Head of Energy who saw just how passionate I was; he even included a summary of my project in Sainsbury’s Corporate Responsibility Report. I maintained contact with him and soon after graduating, I received a call from him – offering me a job! It really was that simple and I’ve never looked back since.
I never imagined that my part time job as a Sainsbury’s checkout assistant would flourish into the role of Group Energy Manager, which ultimately made me responsible for all the electricity and gas used across the 1,000 store portfolio, managing the company’s second biggest controllable cost line; A job that makes environmental and commercial sense.
More Recently I joined Debenhams as Energy Manager. I’m responsible for managing the electricity used to light the stores, the gas used to heat them, and the water used for cleaning and hygiene in stores. Across all the stores, depots and offices in the UK, Debenhams spend over £35million per year on energy and water bills. This is one of their biggest costs and has a big impact on the environment. It’s another demanding, but rewarding job where I get to apply my communication, creativity and engineering skills.
How do you think your experiences as a woman in STEM have made you who you are today?
Being a woman in STEM has made me an adaptable individual. The beauty of what I do is that every day presents a new and different challenge. This is helped me in my professional and personal life and I now have a pragmatic approach to challenges. Working in STEM has helped me to become confident in what I know, and not be afraid of what I don’t know.
What have the highlights been in your career as a woman in STEM?
By far the biggest highlight in my career was achieving Chartered Energy Manager recognition from the Energy Institute. I am the youngest to be awarded this in UK. It’s given me a huge amount of confidence and it’s the stamp of approval from my Institution of all that I have achieved. Working in energy management is really rewarding. You can see almost instantly the effect of your work through a decrease in energy usage, lower energy bills and a minimised impact on the environment.
What do you feel you gain from being a STEM ambassador?
To address the shortage of energy and engineering professionals coming through the pipeline, I have volunteered as a STEM Ambassador. This gives me the opportunity to go to schools, colleges and universities to talk about my career journey and expand on some of the challenges I have faced as a young woman in engineering. By dispelling some of the myths around what an engineer does and looks like, I inspire more students to consider careers in engineering. It also helps me to develop my leadership and presentation skills, I like to get creative and bring energy and engineering to life for the students.
Have any women influenced you and your career?
I’ve been fortunate to have many women (and men) champion my career progression. This has been in the form of colleagues, friends and family. I’ve always been encouraged to pursue a career of my choice by my parents and when I chose engineering they were delighted. As part of my continued professional development I’ve had a female coach, Helen Sachdev who has been invaluable in helping me develop the leadership behaviours required for me to progress in my career. Focussing on both my professional environment and my personal circumstances, she has helped me to understand how to apply my beliefs and values to achieve my goals. She is a fantastic sounding board and always comes up with a unique perspective and great ideas to overcome challenges. It’s really important for women to reach out to each other and share their experience and wisdom.
What are the main issues you face as a women in STEM?
As a female in energy/engineering, I often find that I am the only woman in the room. In the earlier stages of my career I saw this as a barrier, being the only woman in a room full of men can be quite intimidating. But as I gained confidence in my abilities, I saw this difference as a huge benefit. I had different ideas, approaches and ways of working that I could bring to the table. I realised that it was me that doubted my abilities, not everyone else in the room!
What advice would you give to female STEM graduates?
Statistics show that those that study STEM degrees don’t always go on to pursue STEM careers, which is a real shame. The opportunities in STEM are vast. My advice to STEM graduates would be to explore the different careers that you can go into. Ask questions of those already in the industry, read case studies of those that have been on the journey. Be confident in your abilities and the rest will fall into place.
What one word would you use to describe yourself?
Hungry ! ( usually for food, but also for knowledge)