Employee in the spotlight: Mastaneh Turkaman breaks the glass ceiling

Continuing with our Employee in the Spotlight series, this month, Energy Live is excited to introduce Mastaneh Turkaman, the first female at AEMO to operate the South West Interconnected System (SWIS) in Western Australia (WA)!

Energy Live (EL): Can you tell our readers a bit more about your role at AEMO?
I’m a Power System Controller in WA and my key role is to make sure that the power system is secure and reliable. My team’s day-to-day job is to ensure the supply of electricity matches the demand and that there is enough reserve in the system to deal with any contingencies or events within the SWIS. I started this role nearly two years ago and one of the things that I love about my job is the supportive and helpful people that I work with. We have quite an important role and it can be very challenging at times, especially when the weather is volatile, but at the end of the day, I love overcoming the challenges and going home with the knowledge that I have been able to manage an entire system and keep the power on for families across WA. 

EL: What about your journey to AEMO? How did you get to where you are today? 
Well, it has certainly been quite the journey! I studied a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering, specialising in control systems, in Iran and worked there for a few years designing transmission lines. In 1994, I immigrated to New Zealand and studied a Master of Electrical Engineering at the University of Auckland. I have since worked in research, development, and education and have continued to study further to upgrade my skills before rejoining the energy industry. I joined a company in Perth named Electro 80 as a control system engineer and I was involved in a number of projects including Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) design for emergency power generation facilities in two of the largest hospitals in WA. While I was working at Electro 80, I also completed a Graduate Degree of Project Management. I joined AEMO in 2016 when it was being formed in WA and here I am now! 

EL: You’ve been so busy! You started your career in Iran, so how different is the energy landscape there in comparison with Australia’s system? 
I worked in Iran a long time ago and a lot must have changed by now. However, most power generation in Iran was, and still is, based on oil and gas. At the time most of the energy industry was state-owned, but I am not sure about it right now. I worked in transmission line design and the work was similar to Australia from a design and construction point of view. There are more women in power engineering roles in Iran compared to Australia, however, it is great to see this is changing and more women are active in energy and engineering roles. 

EL: So, it is quite an achievement to be the first female engineer to operate the SWIS. How does it feel to break through the glass ceiling and what does empowering women in energy mean to you?
As an electrical engineer, I have always worked in a male dominated environment and this job is no different. I have welcomed new opportunities in my career and I am grateful that AEMO has given me the opportunity to step into a role in WA that no female has ever stepped into. The credit also goes to the management of AEMO and the culture of diversity within the organisation. I feel very proud, not just because of being a woman, but being an engineer who has been able to pick up a new challenge and deliver a service to this business. 

My message to all women in energy is that our gender has nothing to do with our capability in the technical world. If you enjoy the work then just go for it! 

EL: What are some of the other changes that you are noticing in the energy industry and what excites you about working in the sector?
Energy is critical in our everyday lives and renewable energy has become a competitive choice for customers, which is a big change. This brings with it challenges related to the integration of transitional energy sources into our power system. With the ever-evolving energy industry, our jobs are becoming more exciting and more interesting along the way. 

EL: What drew you to working at AEMO?
One of the attraction points for joining the company was being part of the operation in Perth as AEMO integrated as a new business. I wanted to grow with it from the start and being part of the changes in the energy industry was also attractive to me. Another thing that stood out to me was the flexibility of the shift work, most people don’t like it, but I have found that it works really well with my lifestyle. 

EL: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about working within the sector?
I have found AEMO a very rewarding place to work with and the people here are incredibly supportive. AEMO has the culture of change and diversity, and that makes this company a great place to work. Our roles here are quite important and we impact millions of lives directly. That’s why we need to make sure energy customers have access to reliable and secure energy at all times, which is a very fulfilling job to do. 

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