Naval Technical Officer sees bright future for women in STEM roles

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Navy News / July 22, 2020

The first woman to achieve the rank of Captain (Navy) as a Naval Technical Officer in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) sees a bright future for those pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers in the service.

“Technology will continually evolve, providing never-ending opportunities for those in STEM for years to come, particularly in the area of shipbuilding and in-service support,” says Capt(N) Seana Routledge, Deputy Project Manager – Transition in the Canadian Surface Combatant Project Management Office. “We need innovators as we move toward the future, and those in STEM can play a pivotal role in advancing innovation in the RCN.”

Capt(N) Routledge believes that strong solutions can be developed when there is a diverse group of people around the table collaboratively working on problems. 

“We struggle both within government and within the private sector to recruit women into STEM roles,” she says. “Without diversity in our leadership and throughout our organization, we can lose the opportunity for innovative ideas that come from having different opinions, perspectives and experiences.”

She says that since the RCN wants to see more women in STEM leadership roles, it needs to continue to focus on improving how it gets women to join, encouraging them throughout their careers, and providing them with equal opportunities to advance and develop in order to keep them. This requires the RCN to look at providing flexibility in its careers paths so women can pursue their professional and personal goals.

“If we can achieve this, then the RCN will be stronger, richer and more effective in accomplishing its mandate.”

Capt(N) Routledge says she achieved her current rank because of the many changes that have already been made in the RCN over the last 25 years to remove many of the barriers for women.

“Understanding that nothing is perfect, we need to continually look at our policies, processes and postings, and continue to amend them to ensure equality,” she says.  “Gender-Based Analysis Plus (a government process by which a policy, program, initiative or service can be examined for its impacts on various groups of women and men) that is now integral to our policies is a great advancement in ensuring equality in all we do.”

A graduate in Computer Engineering from the Royal Military College in 2000, she says she is having a typical career for a naval engineer, changing jobs every 18 months on average, and working in several engineering organizations both on the East Coast and in Ottawa. The diverse postings have given her a solid breadth of experience and an opportunity to demonstrate her leadership potential to progress through the ranks.

She is keenly aware that she is a role model for women pursuing STEM careers in the RCN, even if it’s not what she expected.

“I didn’t think I’d be the first woman in my trade to attain this rank, and I’m not someone who enjoys the spotlight,” she says. “In addition, for much of my career I never really considered myself a role model for other women.”

That changed a few years ago, however, when a young naval lieutenant stopped her in the front entrance of her office building and congratulated her on her then promotion to Commander.

“She said something to me that always stuck with me; that she was pleased to see more women promoted to that rank as it was nice to have another woman to look up to and identify with. I realized that whether I wanted to be a role model or not, I actually already was one.”

Capt(N) Routledge is quick to pass credit for her success to other female Naval Technical Officers, who she says paved the way before her with other firsts within the RCN that enabled her to attain her goals.

She adds that Commodore (Cmdre) Josée Kurtz, who was her Executive Officer when she was a Head of Department in Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Ville de Québec and the first woman ever to command a Standing NATO Maritime Group, inspired her to pursue her unique goals.

“Her professionalism and work ethic were always an inspiration to me.”

In her current position, Capt(N) Routledge is responsible for leading the development of an in-service support and sustainment solution for the navy’s new surface combatant, so that when the fleet is built and ready for service, all of the support mechanisms such as infrastructure, training, spare parts, maintenance equipment and documentation are in place.

“My goal is to develop the most effective solution possible within the available resources, and to ensure that the RCN and Director General Maritime Equipment Program Management are well positioned to be able to maintain these ships for many years to come,” she comments. “This is no easy feat, but luckily I have a phenomenal team that has already been working on this complex problem. I am privileged to have been given the opportunity to work with them.”  

Capt(N) Routledge also has to balance her busy career with raising a family. She and her spouse, a Commodore, have a two-year-old son.

“Some days we achieve the balance, and some day we don’t. Sometimes we have to work evenings and weekends to stay on top of things when the pull of family obligations, or work for that matter, cause a shift in the balance. However, good communication, support for each other and our professional goals, sharing of the childcare load, and to be honest, flexibility from my supervisors to handle things at home when necessary, are our keys to success – and a good daycare, a dog walker and a house cleaner make all the difference!”

She is also an avid runner and relaxes by hiking, reading and listening to music.

The future is sure to be exciting for those interested in STEM careers in the RCN, but Capt(N) Routledge says that with any large organization, there will be challenges. However, she strongly believes that these challenges are worth pursuing and encourages other women in STEM career paths to consider joining the RCN.

“I have had so many rewarding experiences throughout my career that balance out any of the challenging times, and they keep me motivated to continue to progress.”