Engineering for women - making a tangible difference to people’s lives: Part 2
Engineering is everywhere around us. It enables the gadgets we use to work, the bridges and buildings we stand in and to stand up rather that fall down. It saves lives – think about incubators for babies in intensive care units, resuscitation kits when someone has a heart attack. Engineering is not just about fast cars and muddy construction sites. When your heating goes on as you set it to or your kettle boils to create a hot drink, creating warmth and comfort, an engineer’s thought, problem solving and hard work has enabled this to happen.
What is the engineering industry doing to attract & support female engineers?
The Institution of Engineering & Technology (IET) is proactive in increasing the number of women working in engineering. It has signed the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology’s CEO charter, which commits it to actively seeking to increase female participation in engineering.
The charter ensures that all their educational programmes appeal to girls as well as boys and teaches young people about engineering through their award-winning Faraday programme, an exciting year-long programme of resources, activities, competitions and engineering events across the UK.
The Power Academy uses powerful images of women engineers to define its presence
on the web. Formed by the IET, the Power Academy brings together major power sector
organisations to support and finance prospective female and male engineers through degrees at leading universities.
It offers a ‘by members for members’ mentoring service, through which members receive support and advice about progressing in engineering - women can request a female mentor.
It also supports partner organisations looking to increase female participation in engineering: with associations with the WISE Campaign, which encourages young women to study Maths and Physics and to consider careers in science, engineering and construction and The Women’s Engineering Society (WES).
The IET supports W-Tech, a free one day recruitment, career development and networking event for female technologists.
The IET acts as a partner to Equalitec, a programme which seeks to address gender inequality in the information technology, electronics and communications industries by providing services and resources to individuals and organisations for more effective implementation of diversity policies.
“I have had sponsors and advocates and have taken advantage of personal development opportunities.”
Dr Dorte Rich Jorgensen
GTI Media’s research showed that female undergraduates recommended that the industry present engineering careers as ‘exciting’ to schools, making the work sound interesting, exciting and valuable to the country and to people’s lives, more female role models, especially senior, more females involved in the selection/recruitment process, more work experience opportunities so that they can have first-hand experience of what it is like to be an engineer and more explanation of what specifically female STEM graduates can bring to teams, projects and business. Support for women with their confidence in the currently male dominated engineering was mentioned too.
“If females are discounting engineering as a ‘cold and calculating’ industry, with a chilly technical exterior, we need to make them aware that it does in fact have a warm and humanitarian core too.”
Sakthy Selvakumaran, engineer at Ramboll.
What are companies doing to attract and keep female engineers?
Arup is a global engineering company ahead of its time. It is an independent firm owned by its employees and supports them to be who they are, celebrating uniqueness and difference. Research shows that Generation Y and the Millennials want to be involved in decision making, enjoy a company with good values and being developed is important to them. Arup have adopted this approach with its origins from the visionary man who set it up, Sir Ove Arup. ‘The key speech’ (1970) as it is known within Arup shares his vision. ‘We shape a better world’ is Arup’s company line, an example of a stance that appeals to female engineers wanting to make a difference.
"What engineers do for their work is about people and making their lives better.
Presented in this way, engineering is much more of an appealing choice for women."
Robert Care, Chair UK Middle East Africa (UKMEA), Arup
Larger businesses such as Atkins have their own in-house women’s networks. Diversity panels in engineering are starting to make a difference, with mentoring and award schemes.
“There can be a drop out of women because of family responsibilities and the perception of the culture in engineering has been a turn-off for some. More needs to be done in the UK to encourage teachers to promote careers in engineering, especially to girls”.
Dr Dorte Rich Jorgensen
“Being an engineer is creative, diverse and about solving problems, and involves both big picture and detail. It is rewarding and helps the world be a better place.”
Allison McKenzie, Principle Electronics Engineering & Head of engineering, Triteq
“Early on in your career, being an engineer can be painful. You need to feel comfortable with trial and error, getting things wrong to learn how to do them right/better. It is part of becoming a good engineer. Perhaps this feeling of 'failing' for some people, especially women who are often self-citical makes them feel uneasy?“
Allison McKenzie, Principle Electronics Engineering & Head of engineering.
Perception is reality and perceptions are created through the choice of images, words and stereotypes and what the media share. Women make great engineers. There is no reason in their genetic make-up why they do not. To attract female engineers is perhaps an industry challenge to present it in a more emotive way, education by the sector of teachers, parents and society, and within society as a whole looking at unconscious bias and flexible working. Engineering is not the only sector that suffers from female talent drain. The world of work needs to change and it is and will over time.
As Dorte says: “Find out what your purpose is, what you really love to do and what you good at as soon as possible. This becomes a driver and lays a foundation of the determination to succeed and have job satisfaction.”