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Female Leaders: Aima Owen

Did you always want to join the Army?

Absolutely! When I was younger, I was really keen to join the Army and applied for the TA which I was disappointed to find out I was not eligible for, which was a blessing in disguise as it pushed me to apply to the Army, and I was successful at selection. Shortly after I graduated from university, I started my training in 2009 and then became part of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

It’s almost impossible for me to explain how extraordinary life in the Army was. Not only are you serving your country, but you’re travelling the world with an amazing bunch of people. You’re also learning about new cultures, as well as what your country’s role in the world is.

Before I joined, I remember feeling quite nervous and almost apprehensive as to whether I had made the right decision. But as cliché as this sounds, it truly was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

What were some of the challenges you faced?

Afghanistan was by far the biggest challenge that I faced during my time in the Army. When I was told that I was being deployed there, I found it quite hard to get my head around. I remember feeling as though I had been given a one-way ticket.

Ultimately, you just don’t know what to expect – the nation’s people were disenchanted, so one of the main parts of my job whilst I was out there was to help win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people whilst out on patrol. However, there was always a feeling of anxiousness; a feeling that saying or doing the wrong thing could have a major impact on the peace efforts, which was a lot of pressure.

Aside from Afghanistan, leaving my family for deployment was always hard, particularly when I went abroad and couldn’t see them regularly. You’re not sure when you’ll see them again, and when you’re in a conflict zone like Afghanistan, there’s a part of you that worries you might not ever see them again.

Did you see any major changes over the course of your career in terms of what it’s like to be a woman in the Armed Forces?

I suppose my experiences are a little different from most, as engineering isn’t a particularly representative industry on the whole. There were only a handful of women in my regiment, although I’m sure that this is probably similar to large engineering firms in the UK. There are a lot of women working within the Army now though.

Some women’s experience will be different to mine, but gender was never really an issue for me. I never felt that I was treated any differently being female, but it’s great that women are now able to join the Army in roles that have always been traditionally seen as ‘male’, such as fighting on the front line.

Do you have a role model who has inspired you?

My mum is definitely my role model. She’s an amazing woman who has achieved so much – all whilst raising a family. I really do draw my strength from my mum, and she inspires me every single day.

Research has found that 72% of veterans struggle to adapt to normal careers after leaving the Armed Forces. How have you found the transition?

My army career came to an end because of love and the opportunity to start a family. I met my husband in the army and we deployed together to Afghanistan. We got married in 2015 and you can say the rest is history.

I had setbacks when I left the Army, but nothing compared to some people I know, who have really struggled, and even put off leaving the Army because they didn’t know what to expect with life on the outside. I think the main issue is that you’ve come from a world which is really structured and one in which you are also looked after – all of your meals, accommodation etc. was taken care of. You didn’t need to worry about things like paying utility bills and so this transition for some is really tough.

It ended up taking me a year of proactively searching to find a new career after leaving the forces, which was obviously quite a daunting time. I would apply for jobs and then just not hear anything back from these companies that I had applied to. I found this to be really disheartening, but tried as much as possible not to let it get me down. What I tried to keep at the forefront of my mind throughout this period was the confidence and skills that my Army training had taught me, which I knew would be beneficial for any career eventually.

When I started at Openreach, I took everything the Army had taught me and put it into practise in the civilian working world – Openreach is the UK’s largest employers of Armed Forces veterans and I found that everyone was caring, understanding and patient, so they really helped me transition into civilian working life. It felt like I had joined another big family, like with the Army. As there are so many other veterans also working at Openreach, it really does feel like a home away from home.

I have struggled slightly at times with working remotely, as I’m very much a people person and have always worked in person with my team face-to-face, so it took a while for me to adjust to working remotely from my team and communicating via email or telephone.

Tell us more about the setbacks that you faced?

Obviously being fresh out of the Army and being out of work for a year was tough, but once I started at Openreach, I felt like it was a home from home in terms of being very similar to the Army; I was part of a team, I knew where I stood, and there was constant communication with my colleagues – there were even some Army reservists in my team.

I was a new mother, so juggling a new role with a new baby was difficult, but the Army teaches you to adapt to new environments, which I did, and now I couldn’t be happier, both at home and at work.

What advice would you give to young girls and women who were thinking about a career in the Army?

Go for it, definitely! Don’t let preconceptions about your gender hold you back from doing something that could change your life. It’s such a brilliant place to learn, it provides such incredible opportunities, such as traveling the world and meeting lots of different people.

Some people do see themselves staying in the forces for life, however most people don’t see this as a job for life and so thinking a little about your future and ensuring that you have life and work experiences outside of the forces will help to stand you in good stead for when you do eventually decide to leave.

If your teenage self could see your life now, what do you think she would be most surprised by?

She wouldn’t be surprised that I joined the Army, but she would most definitely be surprised that I have three kids under the age of three! I’d like to think that the surprise would turn to being impressed when she realised that I’m balancing the three kids alongside a full-time career and running a household.

What’s next for you?

I’m super ambitious, so in terms of my career, I just want to progress as far as I can. I love what I do currently and Openreach and the goal is to have a long career see myself having a long career with them. As with all parents, I also want to do the best for my kids and make sure that they’re supported in everything they do. Especially if they want to follow in mine and my husband’s footsteps by joining the Armed Forces.

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