Being a senior energy manager at Starbucks, with a portfolio that covers Europe, the Middle East and Africa, one would be forgiven to think that Jaz Rabadia hasn’t much time on her hands. Yet, she manages to volunteer as a science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) ambassador, mentoring children and young people, especially females, to become engineers. “At first, they think it’s all hard-hats and boiler suits - children especially have no idea where engineering can take them. Even when I speak to engineering undergraduates, they think their options are quite limited,” she continued. “My advice is to think more about who you would like to work for, rather than be defined by the subject you study.” This is because companies you least expect may require your skills. She herself never thought that an organisation like Starbucks would need people dedicated to energy.
Jaz’ career in energy began unusually: at the checkout till of a Sainsbury’s supermarket. She worked there part-time during her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. She wasn’t that keen on engineering but she enjoyed studying the energy modules. Thus, she decided to do an energy study of the store for her final-year dissertation. Her bosses were so impressed with the study that they offered her a position with the energy team at Sainsbury’s head office.
Since then, Jaz has gone from strength to strength, scooping up industry awards and occupying energy management posts in top retail companies. In 2015, her industry work and commitment as a STEM ambassador was honoured by the Prince of Wales: at the age of 30, she became a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Although she has courted success at a young age, it wasn’t always plain sailing. “Being young, Asian and a woman, there have been times when I have felt different or felt like people were questioning why I was there,” she told me. “But I turned that into a positive. I thought: ‘if you want the same perspective, then hire the same people. I bring something new to the table.’”
By working in renewable energy and encouraging girls to study STEM, she is ultimately fulfilling her life’s purpose: serving to make the world a better place. She is also determined to challenge the myths that engineering lacks creativity or that it’s only suitable for boys. “The problem is that women have not been nurtured from the start to become engineers. It doesn’t happen at home or at school. When we call girls creative, it tends to mean they are good at dance or art. With boys, it means that they are good builders. Why can’t engineering be seen as creative for boys and girls?” she asked. “I actively encourage my nieces to take an interest in it. At the moment, only 9% of engineers in the UK are women, so I say to them, ‘You will be part of the 9%; you will be sought after; you are one of a kind.”
For Jaz, the biggest energy challenge is how to manage it in a sustainable way, acknowledging that we depend on it and that it’s precious. “There are about 1 billion people in this world who do not have clean water or electricity. For us, energy is accessible and fairly affordable so we take it for granted. We forget that it’s a luxury. If everyone changed their habits just a little bit, we’d make a big impact.”
Towards the end of our conversation, I ask Jaz what inspires her. “A lot of people have helped me in some way shape or form. I admire someone who’s gone out of their way to do something for someone else,” she replied. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘How often do we give up our time to help people?’ It’s about time…we gave people our time.”