I began my working life in forensic science, but when I joined the Energy Systems Catapult in 2018, it was the springboard for me to appreciate how exciting it is to work within the energy transition. It also opened my eyes to the diverse range of career opportunities enabled by the transition.
In 2020, I became a business development director at Burns & McDonnell. I wasn’t sure what to expect in my first few weeks. I did have some apprehensions around the stereotypes of the industry, and I remember being struck how male-dominated the rooms were at industry events I attended. However, I was glad to find over time that many of my concerns and preconceptions about a job in engineering did not materialise.
Finding the Right Size
On my first visit to a construction site, my initial concern was whether any of the personal protective equipment (PPE) would fit me. Fortunately, my company (and much of the rest of the industry) takes a proactive approach to sourcing inclusive PPE. This now comes in women’s sizes and shapes. My apprehensions around any wolf-whistling or a lack of female facilities — something which I have heard from others in the industry were certainly problems in the past — were also dispelled. I felt safe and welcomed on-site, and the visit was a positive and interesting experience.
There is still far more to be done to address the gender imbalance in the industry. I have only met one woman who’s been part of the operational team out of all my site visits. The latest statistics show this is an industrywide problem: Only 16.5% of people working in the U.K. engineering sector are female, as are only 13% of those working in construction.
I am not suggesting that behaviour everywhere within construction and engineering is exemplary. I think it is important that women in the industry talk about our lived experience, dispelling some of the myths and stereotypes and making it known that some things certainly have changed. This will encourage more women to join the industry and to address the gender imbalance.
Experience and Experiences
I also believe it is important to encourage women at all stages of their careers, not just recent graduates, to consider engineering. These women not only bring great experience but also are more likely to have been exposed to the negative stereotypes about the industry. There are many women with valuable, transferrable skills who could join the sector later in their careers and make a significant impact. This fact needs more promotion when trying to attract women from other sectors. We also need to maintain and encourage the routes into engineering careers. When I recently attended a GCSE options evening with my daughter, one course being offered was limited to 30 students because of a lack of engineering teachers.
Men and women need to work together to overcome biases and create an inclusive environment. This includes the seemingly small things — for example, my company proactively uses images of women in recruitment campaigns and uses gender-neutral language in job adverts. There is also an internal employee resource group, Network of Women (NOW), for mutual support and discussing ideas for change. Everyone is invited to the meetings, not just women, encouraging a collective approach to solutions. NOW groups are present in all of our offices globally, creating an international network that can support people, provide advice and share best practices. Outside the business, we are working to share these insights, further strengthening our inclusive culture through network meetings for women from our supply chain.
There are also several industrywide initiatives, including the Women’s Engineering Society in the U.K., which help build cohesion and professional networks. EngineeringUK and the Institution of Engineering and Technology also do vital work to raise the profile of women in the industry and highlight individuals’ successes. There is more work to be done, but we are changing the narrative and encouraging women at any career stage to join an industry that is constantly innovating, evolving and essential for all our futures.
Mentorship is a powerful tool for sharing a passion for STEM and building career confidence. There are many reasons every engineer should get involved in mentoring.