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Saudi women should harness their inner ‘superhero’ to thrive in defense industry, says Rolls-Royce executive

RIYADH: Being a woman in the defense industry is not a hurdle but a superpower, bringing diverse perspectives to the table, according to a senior official at Rolls-Royce.

The company’s Middle East Senior Vice President Cate Wilkinson brought a wealth of experience and insight to the forefront during an interview on the sidelines of the World Defense Show in Riyadh. 

With a distinguished career spanning over three decades in the industry, Wilkinson shared her journey and highlighted the transformative impact of diversity, particularly for women in the field.

“When I first started, I would be the only woman in a meeting, but that’s actually your superpower. And the reason why I say that is because if you’re the only person that’s different, you have an advantage before you start the conversation. I see it as being a positive, I think differently to most men,” she reflected, shedding light on the changing dynamics in the sector.

Encouraging women to embrace their unique perspectives, Wilkinson remarked: “My advice to Saudi women is be positive, be open to the opportunities wherever they take you, take them, grasp the work with them, and use your superpower.”

The official took pride in Rolls-Royce’s commitment to promoting diversity in Saudi Arabia, citing that 15 percent of their workforce in the Kingdom comprises women. 

Female employees are actively engaged in roles ranging from conventional positions such as human resources and business development to technical roles, including working on engines at the Rolls-Royce facility in Taif.

The excitement surrounding Rolls-Royce’s participation in WDS was palpable, aligning with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. Wilkinson expressed her pride in the company’s long-standing support for the Royal Saudi Air Force, spanning over 50 years.

She emphasized: “We have been here and supporting the RSAF for well over 50 years and we’re very proud of that. We continue to support both in terms of supply of engines but also in terms of support, in terms of the maintenance, repair and overhaul of our engines.”

Wilkinson added: “We have a quite sophisticated facility over in Taif that actually looks after the EJ200 engines that goes in the Typhoon aircraft, and that’s been there since 2009.”

Discussing future goals, she highlighted the importance of sustained collaboration with Saudi stakeholders. While no specific announcements were made during the show, the official hinted at potential developments, stating: “There are plans. Some of that is to do with our existing footprint and there are also future plans around additional things that we could bring to Saudi if the conditions are right.”

Addressing the diversification objectives outlined in Vision 2030, Wilkinson noted the suppliers’ noticeable desire to create sustainable capabilities for the aerospace and defense industries. 

She commented: “The ambition, the desire for diversification, which is through Vision 2030, but more broadly is really powerful. The drive right from the top all the way down is huge.”

Rolls-Royce showcased an experimental small engine at the event, designed in a nontraditional spiral development manner. Wilkinson explained: “It’s about ‘let’s get an engine to test,’ ‘let’s see how fast we can do it.’ And that’s really different and exciting.”

She added: “It’s a demonstrator, it’s a concept engine, but it’s so exciting to have a project that you can just spirally develop. And this is something that we’re talking in Saudi about ‘how do you develop? But it isn’t in the traditional way.”

Rolls-Royce’s major contributions in Saudi Arabia include powering combat aircraft like Tornados, Typhoons, and Hawks and the RSAF’s C-130 transport aircraft. 

Wilkinson emphasized the dynamic developments in the Saudi defense industry, portraying the event as an “incredible place to be” and reaffirming Rolls-Royce’s commitment to supporting the Kingdom’s progress in the aerospace and defense sectors.

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