Closing the gap this International Women in Engineering Day

On International Women in Engineering Day 2021, nine female STEM experts share their own experiences with Business Reporter.

In 2018, 61% of engineering employers say recruitment of engineering and technical staff with the right skills is a barrier to business. However, currently, women make up just 12.3% of all engineers in the UK, and only one in five of jobs are held by women in the wider engineering sector as a whole. At a time when it has never been more important to address the engineering skills shortage, women in engineering remain underrepresented. 

International Women in Engineering Day (23rd June) provides an opportunity to tackle this problem head on and focus attention on the great opportunities available for women in the sector, with this year’s theme #EngineeringHeroes celebrating the achievements of female engineers already thriving in the field.

In light of the day, nine female STEM experts have shared their own experiences with Business Reporter, and offered advice to girls and women considering a career in STEM and to businesses looking to make a positive change.

Change starts at school

Research from EngineeringUK found that 60% of girls aged 11 to 14 think they could become an engineer if they wanted to, compared to 72% of boys. However, in the 16 to 19 age range, just a quarter of girls say they would ever consider a career in engineering, compared to more than half of boys. Angela Garland, Escalations Engineer at Content Guru explains that this has to change. “We need to do much more to encourage young girls with a passion for science to study STEM courses – both at younger school ages and further on into higher education.”

“I was raised in an engineering household and lucky enough to go to a school that encouraged girls to take GCSE and A-Level science – but then again, it was an all-girls school,” she adds. “We had plenty of female science teachers and role models supporting us. Sadly, I don’t think this is typical of the education system. By the time I reached university, our mechanical engineering bachelors was just 10% female.”

“It is important that teachers are the first to challenge the stereotype that engineering is a ‘man’s world,’” agrees Ronit Polak, VP of Engineering at Exabeam. “Many young girls believe the misconception that engineers code all day, deterring them from showing any interest, and we need to disrupt that. Educating school-age children on the diverse landscape of engineering careers can help them understand where their passions may fit under the engineering umbrella. With early exposure, kids, particularly girls, are more likely to pursue the career when they reach college-level age and beyond.”

A positive role model

There are so many benefits of a career in engineering. International Women in Engineering Day invites us to acknowledge and celebrate the incredible work that female engineers deliver, highlights Agnes Schliebitz-Ponthus, SVP Product at Fluent Commerce.

“Early in my career, I had the opportunity of taking a position at Amazon HQ in Seattle. Whilst there, I was inspired by the substantial numbers of female software engineers from a variety of backgrounds in senior roles. These women worked extremely hard and motivated me to push myself more to perfect my programming and software engineering skills. And now at Fluent Commerce, I’m surrounded by an equally inspiring team working to the common goal of helping retailers adapt quickly to the rapidly changing world of ecommerce.

“When women are supported by role models of their own gender, there is much to gain. I’m one of the lucky ones and I want to encourage more women to realise the possibilities within a STEM-focused career.”

“Engineering is such a gratifying career, for men and women,” adds Louise Simonds, Engineering Program Director at ConnectWise. “It’s so satisfying to design a solution, implement it, and then show it to a user or customer and get positive feedback – a ‘yes’ which signals that you successfully solved a problem for them.”

However, “while an engineering career is rewarding, it can be intimidating to be the only woman in the room. There will always be that colleague who interrupts you when you are speaking, or who asks you to take the meeting notes because, you know, ‘women are better at that kind of thing’. It takes a lot of self-confidence to interrupt the interrupter, or politely decline to be the note-taker.

“It’s important to remember that you don’t need to be just like the men to be a good engineer. Be authentic. Find role models of either sex and figure out what it is about them that makes them a good engineer, and emulate those qualities. Ask a lot of questions (but never the same one twice!) Figure out what you love to do and bring that passion to work every day.”

Important advice

There is most definitely a huge opportunity here for women, especially within the engineering, software, cybersecurity, cloud, and AI sectors, explains Caroline Seymour, vice president, product marketing at Zerto. “It’s not for the light-hearted and you have to be strong, and not easily intimidated to overcome bias that you might face, but that’s all part of learning, and you keep at it. Perseverance is important, be confident, believe in yourself and your work, and others will too.”

“There is no shortage of advice I could give young girls and women to encourage them to consider the field of engineering,” furthersOlivia Collier, software engineer at ThycoticCentrify. “However, it all boils down to this: don’t be intimidated by the lack of women in the classroom.”

She continues: “Programming and other forms of engineering are like a giant puzzle that you get to solve. The field is an excellent confidence booster, and I encourage young women looking into a career in engineering to always ask questions. Accept challenges with an open mind. Embrace feedback – not just the positives, but also constructive criticism. Do not settle until you’ve found the niche in engineering that you shine in.”

Rectifying change

In the UK, the engineering sector faces a huge skills shortfall, estimated between 37,000 and 59,000 engineers, yet only 12% of all engineers are women. “As the war for talent intensifies, ensuring also women are properly represented in engineering is instrumental in making up this shortfall, especially in light of the Pink Pandemic,” explains Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President EMEA at Skillsoft.

“Organisations should identify more talented women and the best career paths to accelerate their growth and progression. When there are very few or no female candidates to consider, they must also ask themselves why, and change the approach accordingly – developing programmes that identify, support and develop female talent.”

“One of the simplest places businesses can make a positive change is starting with job ads,” adds Mini Biswas, Pre-Sales Manager at Node4. “If a tech company was to offer a role that specifically outlined that it was open to men and women – be it full time, part time or on flexible hours – they would have much more success in receiving female applications. Inclusivity from the very beginning is so important.”

International Women in Engineering Day is a reminder to celebrate the women and companies in our field that are working toward improving the collective experience of female engineers. “However, we need to better understand the obstacles that they face if we are to tackle this issue head on,” concludes Amitha Jain, Quality Engineering Manager at Egnyte.

“Ultimately, companies will benefit by recruiting and retaining female employees. The organisations that invest in professional development and leadership training for women will be the most successful. As well as those that foster welcoming work environments that provide equal pay, flexibility, strong family and medical leave policies, inclusion and anti-bias training, mentorship, networking and strong anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. I’ve been fortunate in my career because of my drive and the support I’ve received along the way. I want to make sure others have the same opportunity.”

Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto,com

© Business Reporter 2021

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