International Women in Engineering Day: Girls Can Too

Elementary School Science Classroom: Cute Little Girl Looks Under Microscope, Boy Uses Digital Tablet Computer to Check Information on the Internet. Teacher Observes from Behind, STEM education, gender neutral

23rd June marks the annually celebrated International Women in Engineering Day, dedicated to celebrating the work of female engineers across the globe.

2022 marks the 9th year of the annual celebrations, but still, only 16.5 per cent of engineers are women. With only a quarter of girls aged 16-18 considering a career in engineering compared to over half of boys, there is still a long way to go for equality in the industry.

To coincide with the day, WeAreTechWomen spoke to nine industry leaders to determine what businesses can be doing to support their female engineers and encourage more women and girls into the industry.

Creating a more equal world

The world of engineering encompasses a huge range of roles in the modern day – from the traditional jobs in civil and mechanical engineering to the more modern tasks involved with developing and building software. There are ample opportunities for everyone, yet women remain very outnumbered.

Fluent Commerce, Lesley Dean“Women who do find interest in engineering, and perhaps even study it, find themselves in a very male dominated, competitive environment, and often don’t stick to it,” begins Lesley Dean, Director, Enablement & Learning at Fluent Commerce. “Even for the few women that build a career in the industry, the management level is often dominated by men, which continues to deter women.

“I’ve been in this industry for more than 20 years, and in many ways I feel as though there are even fewer women in engineering.

“Women tend to take specific roles or areas of study, where the numbers are more balanced, or even predominantly women.”

Anais Urlichs, AquaAlso sharing her personal experience entering the industry, Anais Urlichs, Developer Advocate at Aqua Security, reveals how she “did not consider pursuing a career in technology until university. It didn’t seem like an option because no one had taken the time to educate me about potential careers in the sector. As a young girl, I had been discouraged from trying activities in that space. Simple conversations about the jobs and technologies that are out there would have made a huge difference for me.”

Fiona Hood, TotalmobileHowever, it is not all doom and gloom – Fiona Hood, Director of Presales at Totalmobile, stresses that the situation is improving: “The number of women coming into the STEM workforce keeps increasing year on year and WISE have estimated that by 2030, they expect to reach over 29% of women in the STEM workforce.” 

Start from the bottom

Agata Nowakowska, SkillsoftA major part of this inequality within the industry can be traced right back to the start of a girls’ career – in education. This is, therefore, the best place to start in our efforts to close the gender gap. As Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft, explains: “A big contributor to rectifying this balance is considering how engineering is taught in schools. The onus should be on finding new ways to keep girls engaged in STEM subjects throughout their academic career by providing them with the opportunity to build their skills — for example, by developing websites, learning to code, or using robotic toys.”

Ronit Polak_Exabeam“Teachers should be the first to combat the misconception that a career in engineering is a ‘man’s world’,” agrees Ronit Polak, Vice President of Engineering at Exabeam. “Many young girls have the idea that engineers code all day, which discourages them from expressing interest in the field. This is something we desperately need to change. Educating young girls about the wide range of engineering occupations might help them understand where their interests might fall inside the engineering umbrella sooner. Early exposure increases the likelihood that children, particularly girls, would pursue a career when they reach college age and beyond.”

Whilst education is a great starting point for encouraging more girls into the industry, Hugh Scantlebury, CEO and Founder of Aqilla, stresses that it is important to recognise that it is not the only avenue to start an engineering career: “It is not just about academic success — there are many opportunities to encourage women into the industry without formal academic qualifications. Businesses should try to ensure they are championing women who have practical experience or simply a passion and natural affinity for engineering — and support them in their careers as engineers too. There’s more than one path to success in this sector, and we should be open to them all.”

Be supportive and flexible

Once we have succeeded in getting girls to enter the industry, it is essential that the support continues throughout their careers. Accenture and Girls who Code’s study highlights how prominent of an issue the retention of women in the sector is as it reveals 50% of women abandon technology careers by the age of 35.

Having empathy, understanding women’s commitments outside of work and being flexible to adapt to such circumstances is key to this retention, advocates Jen Lawrence, Chief People Officer at Tax Systems: “Flexible working is an essential criteria that many employees have come to expect in the current world of hybrid working. This can be a particular requirement for women, many of whom have to balance work with childcare and other responsibilities. Having the option to work around school drop off and pick up times, or even having the opportunity to take a slightly longer break in the afternoon to have some time to do the things that enables them to focus on themselves, can have a huge impact on how women view work.

“Flexibility brings enjoyment back into working hours, rather than growing to resent the restrictions of the traditional 9 to 5.”

“The great thing about software engineering is that it can be done from anywhere – businesses should utilise these benefits and offer flexibility as a standard working practice.”

Pournima Parange, Engineering Manager at ConnectWise, agrees that, “working mothers are still expected to manage their home and children, alongside their office work. The pressure to juggle both, and complete everything on time without compromise, can cause women to struggle. Organisations should support female workers and ease the pressure, providing equal opportunities for growth and encouraging women to consider what is possible in their career.”

To conclude, Dr Shirley Knowles, Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer at Progress, summarises: “Eradicating bias means promoting a balanced gender access to STEM subjects from school level and driving out discrimation right from the top of organisations. With the increasing importance of ESG strategy, business credibility is beginning to be judged on gender balance.

“Leaders should understand not only the risks of not being inclusive but also the huge benefits diversity and gender balanced teams bring to their business.”


WeAreTechWomen talks to Rocio, Veolia Process Engineer, about her career in engineering

Meet Rocio Roldan Aguayo, Process Engineer, Veolia

To mark International Women in Engineering Day (23 June 2022), WeAreTechWomen speak to Rocio, a Process Engineer at Veolia about her career in engineering, getting more women into the field, and her advice for any budding engineers.

Rocio Roldan Aguayo

Why/what made you choose a career in engineering?

At high school, I was good at STEM subjects and so it made sense to study a related degree. When thinking about what kind of career I wanted to pursue, I always knew I wanted to make a real world impact. I really like problem solving and applying what I’ve learnt to practical situations. It was actually one of my teachers in Madrid that suggested I study chemical engineering at university, because it would be an impactful career where I would be able to make a positive difference to society.

Why is it important in your opinion for there to be more women in engineering?

I actually had a very equal split of men and women when I studied chemical engineering at university – which was really indicative of the change that is happening.

Engineering is a creative field, focusing on problem solving and rising to challenges – it’s not more suited to any sex or gender.

It’s such a varied discipline that can be applied in any industry or sector. The main driver in any career should be developing what you love. If you want to make a tangible difference – engineering could be for you.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

A lot of what I do is monitoring our emissions data and making sure we are operating our facilities at the highest possible efficiency. The more we can decarbonise our operations and help our customers to be more sustainable, the more impact we can have in preserving the planet’s resources.

Something I’m really enjoying at the moment is liaising with different teams across Veolia and working with industry groups to understand the implications of new government legislation. I provide technical support to help translate the changes to emissions reporting or using hydrogen as a fuel source.

Rocio Roldan Aguayo

What is your favourite project you’ve worked on whilst at Veolia?

I really enjoyed working on the Leeds District Heating Network, which is a project where Veolia worked with Leeds Council to supply over 2,000 properties with low carbon heat and hot water from our Recycling and Energy Recovery Facility.

I worked with the construction team and measured how we could best transport the heat to people’s homes. I also did calculations on how our new heating network would impact the existing operations and supported troubleshooting during the commissioning phase. It was the first large project I worked on at Veolia and had everything I wanted from my career – problem solving, working with a wide range of people and applying my skills to a real world example that makes a difference to people and the planet.

What has been your career progression?

I’ve always worked as a process engineer – but that doesn’t mean I haven’t developed or taken on more responsibilities. Actually, it’s quite the opposite.

I started with Veolia in January 2019 and I got my chemical engineering chartership in early 2021. Being part of a multidisciplinary team across the three different business units at Veolia (water, waste and energy) gives me so many opportunities to get involved in a vast array of projects. I’m now working on large scale facilities and national operations which means my work has real significance to lots of people. I’m lucky to work with Veolia’s top experts who share their knowledge and have a real interest in seeing their colleagues develop.

What would be your advice to anyone considering a career in engineering?

The opportunities to grow as an engineering professional are infinite. In the environmental industry that I work in, there are countless ideas, innovations and projects that will shape the way we live, like how to decarbonise countries or build more sustainable cities.

It might be a difficult subject to study, but engineering also offers continuous development and I realise on an almost daily basis that I know more today than I did yesterday!

How does your role at Veolia contribute to its purpose of ecological transformation?

My work at Veolia focuses on how to reduce emissions, where site improvements can be made and assessing new technologies which could make a big difference in the pursuit of Net Zero goals. What I’ve realised throughout my studies and career is that the little steps on the journey really matter. We aren’t going to achieve decarbonisation with one project, we need lots of improvements and developments to get there – and that’s where my team and I come in! We need everyone’s skills across the business to achieve our goal.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT VEOLIA

encouraging girls in to tech, STEM featured

Inspiring women for a career in engineering

encouraging girls in to tech, STEM

As a female engineer, I am part of a minority group.

A miniscule five per cent of practicing engineers in the UK are women, and only 22 per cent of 16-18-year-old girls say they would consider a career in engineering. In the UK we also have the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, while Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus lead with nearly 30 per cent each1.

Why is this the case? My theory is by the time a child turns four, it has already been instilled in them which jobs are for men and which are for women, and society inadvertently reinforces these socially constructed identities due to its own lack of understanding and preconceptions.

But when did Britain decide that women should not aspire to be engineers and help to change the world? And worse still, who thought up the ludicrous notion that women would not make good engineers?

The women of Great Britain have already proven that they can be outstanding engineers and run this country single handedly. Just 70 years ago, when the men left to fight in the Second World War, women went into factories and did the work of talented engineers more than competently.

Sadly, at the end of the war when the men returned, everyone went back to their so called “traditional roles”.

The field of engineering loses so many talented women to so-called “caring professions” because they want “to make a difference,” but making a difference is actually the bread and butter of engineering, and in today’s world is vitally important for the future.

The Engineering UK 2019 report reveals that while girls are underrepresented in STEM subjects at both GCSE and A‘Level, they tend to outperform boys in examinations at both levels of study.

This shows women should be engineers!

As we continue to live through difficult financial times, there are many other pressing problems that threaten our quality of life, such as global warming, the depletion of natural resources and challenges to health – to mention just a few. Engineers and scientists are the only people who can halt the destruction of our planet, so what better way to show you care and make a difference than to become an engineer

In 2017, the annual shortfall of the right engineering skills in the UK was between 25,500 (level 3) and up to 60,000 (over level 4 skills). The reality is that we need to at least double the number of UK based university engineering students for the UK to remain a power hub.

In my current role as President and Chief Executive of the New Model in Technology and Engineering (NMITE), we are committed to making engineering more accessible for everyone and are aiming for gender balance in our student body.

We will also be making entry more accessible with students only needing to demonstrate competence of Maths and Physics at GCSE and not A ‘Level.

We want students who want to be creative, to design, work as a team and be part of an exciting future. By working on ‘real-life’ engineering challenges rather than sitting in lectures, our future students will be providing real solutions for our partner companies including Heineken and Avara Foods.

I hope I, as a Professor of Engineering, will inspire a future generation of Amy Johnsons and Caroline Hasletts to help make a difference and change our world.

Elena Rodriguez-FalconAbout the author

Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon FIET, PFHEA, FCMI

Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon is President and Chief Executive at the New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering. Before that Elena was Professor of Engineering at Sheffield University whilst leading various strategic priorities. Elena has received numerous awards for her work on education and diversity and is Principal Fellow at the HEA and Fellow of the IET and CMI.

 


Returning to work, recruitment bias, Unhappy woman with resume rejected by employer vector flat illustration.

Recruitment bias preventing talented engineers from returning to work after a career break

Returning to work, recruitment bias, Unhappy woman with resume rejected by employer vector flat illustration.

Bias in the recruitment process prevents STEM professionals who have had a career break return to employment, according to a new survey by STEM Returners.

The STEM Returners Index, published on International Women in Engineering Day, showed bias against age, gender and lack of recent experience to be the main barriers to entry.

The Index asked more than 1,000 STEM professionals on a career break a range of questions to understand their experiences of trying to re-enter the STEM sector.

of women feel they've experienced bias in recruitment

of women think childcare responsibilities are a barrier to returning to work

of men more likely to be victim of age-related bias

Nearly a third of women said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their gender compared to seven per cent of men.

Despite 39 per cent of females wanting to return to work due to children now being of school age, 40 per cent of females still feel childcare responsibilities are a barrier to returning due to lack of flexibility offered by employers.

In the survey, men (46 per cent) were more likely to be victim of bias because of their age compared to women (38 per cent). Bias also appears to become more prevalent with age, with more than half of over 55’s saying they have experienced personal bias, compared to as low as 23 per cent in younger age groups.

The Index also asked returners about the impact of Covid on their experience. 34 per cent said the pandemic made getting back to work more difficult than it would have been already. It would also appear that for many people, Covid was the catalyst for a career break that they might not have taken otherwise, as 36 per cent said Covid was a factor in their decision to take a career break. Redundancy was also on the rise year on year as a reason for career breaks according to the results.

STEM Returners has conducted the STEM Returners Index for the past two years. The programme helps highly qualified and experienced STEM professionals return to work after a career break by working with employers to facilitate paid short-term employment placements. More than 260 engineers have returned to work through the scheme across the UK since it began in 2017.

Speaking about the findings, Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners, said, “We know that the engineering sector faces a significant skills shortage and yet this group of talented and dedicated individuals are still overlooked.”

“It’s disappointing to see that 66 per cent of STEM professionals on a career break are finding the process of attempting to return to work either difficult or very difficult and that nearly half (46 per cent) of participants said they felt bias because of a lack of recent experience.”

“This situation is being made even harder with more redundancies and more people wanting to return to work due to uncertainty about the economy and the rising cost of living leading to a wider pool of potential returners.”

“There is a perception that a career break automatically leads to a deterioration of skills.”

“But the reality is, that many people on a career break keep themselves up to date with their industry, can refresh their skills easily when back in work and have developed new transferable skills that would actually benefit their employers.”

“Industry leaders need to do more to update recruitment practices and challenge unconscious bias to help those who are finding it challenging to return to the sector and improve diversity and inclusion within their organisations.”

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A day in the life of a test engineer

Heather Carter

Communication and coordination are important aspects of being a test engineer, according to Heather Carter from global tech consultancy, Saggezza.

While studying Software Engineering at University, I came to realise my passions lay in software testing, unlike most of my fellow students who were planning on becoming developers. Often, people in the industry are unaware there is a career to be had in testing, but being a test engineer is incredibly rewarding.

What is software testing?

Software testing is the act of evaluating and understanding a software product to ensure it is working the way it’s supposed to. There are a number of different approaches to testing the behaviour of products and applications, but the most common methods we use at Saggezza are end-to-end testing, exploratory testing, integration testing, user acceptance testing and pair testing.

  • End to End (E2E) testing involves testing the functionality and performance of an application using a real user scenario from start to finish.
  • Integration testing is where all the individual components of the software are combined and tested together to check the integration between units.
  • Exploratory testing is a type of testing that involves minimum planning and maximum test execution, which allows users to think outside the box.
  • User Acceptance testing is when you test software to make sure it can do what it originally set out to in real-world situations.
  • Pair testing is when two people test the same scenario together, sharing best practice with one another.

What does a typical day look like for a test engineer?

Like a lot of job roles, I begin my day checking emails and messages which usually dictates how I will map out my day in terms of tasks.

At Saggezza, we have a stand up call each morning, which involves my team discussing the work that was completed the day before and what we will work on that day. It’s a great chance to catch up with people working on the same project to discuss any bugs that may have been found in a software product or application, and it also gives us the chance to ask any questions before we start the day.

Once we’re all caught up, my day mostly consists of testing applications the team are building. We’ll also have meetings throughout the week to discuss projects and plan work for the next sprint.

The great thing about being a test engineer is that every day is different.

What skills do you need to be a test engineer?

As a test engineer, two of the most important aspects are communication and coordination.

You need to be able to collaborate with developers in order to understand how each other works and show them how you test, allowing for you both to manage workloads efficiently and seamlessly. And don’t be afraid to ask questions, there’s no such thing as a silly question when you’re a test engineer.

You will also have to juggle multiple tasks at once, so you need to be able to coordinate your day effectively and communicate with your team, especially when working on larger tasks such as setting up an automation framework.

What can we do to inspire more women to explore careers in tech?  

For me, I want to try and get more women into tech by doing talks in colleges and universities. There needs to be more women in tech and in order to do that we need to get more people passionate about it by starting at primary school level, not just university level.

Technology is still very much a male dominated industry, however, the number of women choosing to study STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects is on the rise and many organisations like Saggezza are working to address this imbalance.

As the industry continues to develop with more female role models, I think young girls will be able to see themselves working in the industry and have a better understanding of what they can achieve. Testing is an amazing career and one that I hope more young women continue to consider. 


Women in Engineering Day 2022: Tech leaders come together to reimagine the role of women in engineering

Women In Engineering

The age-old problem of encouraging diversity across the engineering and technology sector is not one that is set to halt anytime soon.

Traditionally, these roles have been taken by men, but in more recent years, organisations have begun to realise the importance of increasing their diversity and ensuring a balanced and reflective point of view is available.

Organisations are starting to recognise how products, services, and solutions can only appeal to the masses if they have been engineered by a team that reflect those masses, understand their pain-points and needs, and can reflect them in the final design. As we look to celebrate this year’s Women in Engineering Day, eleven women reflect on how far we’ve come and what we still have left to do if we are to encourage even more diversity in the industry.

The changing of mindsets throughout the industry

Sue-Ellen Wright, Sopra SteriaSue Ellen, Managing Director of Aerospace and Defence at Sopra Steria believes, “There needs to be a significant mindset change when we talk about a work-life balance, something we are already seeing as a direct result of the pandemic. Supporting workers to get the right balance has become a business priority – something that’s historically been more difficult for women. Women now don’t have to choose between their professional and personal lives, and we’re seeing more women in leadership and management positions leading the way for others to follow in their footsteps.

“The benefits of having a diverse workforce are clear, yet an equal gender balance is still not being achieved in many industries – especially tech and engineering. This is despite an increased focus on encouraging girls to study STEM subjects at school. In fact, the percentage of women in the UK tech industry has only grown 1.3% in the last 11 years, while women still only make up less than a fifth of the engineering workforce.

Mairead, AND DigitalMairead O’Connor, Exec for Cloud Engineering at AND Digital agrees that organisations should be working harder to diversify their teams: “With science and technology shaping every aspect of our lives, there should be endless opportunities for women in engineering. One example of an area where any contribution is valued is software development: whether it’s creating mobile apps, building infrastructure platforms or designing compelling user experiences – there’s something in software for everyone. Yet the gender-gap is currently very clear.

“I’d love to see businesses understand more about what they need from their tech roles, and work hard to get the right people in them.

“I’m keen to see more sponsorship from big companies that have graduate schemes for women or have resources for women to do tech conversion courses or similar. We also need to look at every stage of the pipeline – everything from early years, and how we’re encouraging parents to buy tech-orientated toys for their girls, through to supporting young women through university and beyond. And when children are at school, there should be tailored advice on specific technology-based roles, the skills they will need to break into their chosen career route, and the softer skills they will need to work in fast moving teams.”

Pantea Razzaghi, AutomataPantea Razzaghi, Head of Design at Automata shares her tips for female success in the sciences: “Individuals need to be more open to the idea that it’s ok to make mistakes. For women in STEM, it can feel like there’s added pressure to succeed and even outperform, when the industry is still very much male-dominated. But often we are our biggest critics, and my advice for young women that are early into their science and engineering journey will be to not sit on mistakes for too long. Scientists are trialling and erroring things in labs all the time – that’s how invention works. So don’t be afraid to experiment and learn from your mistakes too.

“Another key point to remember is to trust your instincts.”

“If you find yourself in an environment where it’s impossible to make a change, assess whether that’s the right environment for you. By putting yourself into a healthy environment, there’ll be a greater chance for you to be more influential and proactive in your role. Be selective about where you position yourself for growth, especially if you want to be ambitious in both your work and family endeavours.”

Diversifying the recruitment pool in which you search

Orna Zakaria, F5“To bring more women into engineering, businesses should be actively recruiting female students to increase the talent pool – ensuring that smart, intelligent women can rise as high as their ambitions and abilities will take them,” says Orna Zakaria, Vice President of Engineering at F5.

“I was first exposed to computers and security software during military service in Israel, before going on to study computer engineering and eventually becoming a software developer. I always believed that if I did my job diligently, advancement in my career would follow. But I have found that women need to be their own advocates for growth and progress, and start being candid about what they want and how much they want,” Zakaria explains.

Meng Muk, MatillionSook Meng Muk, Senior Director of Engineering at Matillion agrees that having a diverse team will lead to future success: “A crucial element of building a great team is incorporating diverse backgrounds and personalities and nurturing this diversity so that one day they could be doing the same with their own teams. It’s so pivotal that we encourage the next generation of women leaders in tech and engineering, and the right people need to be given the opportunities to shine and develop their own leadership skills. The only way the women leaders of the future can emerge is if they are given a sense of ownership and accountability, and part of this means letting go yourself and handing the reins over to others.

“Our hiring approach needs to be inclusive in the first place, ensuring that we are looking for candidates who are a culture “add” rather than a culture “fit” to encourage thought diversity. It is also important to educate engineering teams on unconscious bias to build up the awareness of our own biases so that we move away from stereotyping perceptions.” 

Breaking down the barriers and allowing women to become pioneers

Dr. Maria Aretoulaki, Founder & Director DialogCONNECTION Ltd & Principal Consultant Voice & Conversational AI GlobalLogic UK&I said: “Every year International Women in Engineering Day encompasses more and more disciplines from STEM fields. It’s an important milestone celebrating women who successfully drive innovation in their areas of expertise and a timely reminder and proof that working in these industries is for everyone. It’s disheartening that we still need to normalise female success in disproportionately male-dominated professions, particularly as being scientifically-minded is not a gender-specific trait.

“It’s crucial to give girls and young women concrete role models in STEM that they can look up to and eradicate any thoughts that STEM is ‘not for me’.

“In my field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) there are many exceptional women doing amazing things. From Researchers to Software Designers and Hardware Engineers building the tools of tomorrow, we are seeking input from a diverse skillset in order to actively reduce biases in these tools. I’m part of AMELIAS’s Women in AI programme and am delighted to see female executives pioneering AI within their organisations and carving out a future for women in STEM careers. We’re constantly addressing both internal barriers and legacy external biases that have held us back for so long”

Liz Parnell, RackspaceLiz Parnell, Chief Operating Officer at Rackspace agreed that although we’re continuing to see a huge drive to increase gender equality, more needs to be done: “We need to help young people to understand that it’s not a boy’s club and that women started this industry! We should be making industry heroes like Margaret Hamilton as famous as Alan Turing or Steve Jobs.

“I believe that focusing on the next generation is where we will see real transformation.”

“By speaking to children from a young age, we can encourage and help them see themselves in technology and engineering roles, and get them excited for new technologies and applications in the future, all of which will influence their future career decisions. This is something we contribute to through our Racker Resource Groups, where we help school children get a foundational understanding of the technology – from how to code to what the future of the cloud will be.”

EJ Cay, Genesys“International Women in Engineering Day is a reminder we should continue to encourage women and girls to study STEM subjects and transition these skills into the workplace,” explains EJ Cay, Vice President, UK and Ireland, Genesys. “Once they enter the workplace, we must create platforms for women that ensure their careers are not strewn with obstacles and enable them to build a fulfilling work-life balance.

“I pursued a career in technology as I was inspired by its ability to transform businesses in the way they operate, how they go to market and how they serve their customers. Technology evolves at pace, and I’ve always wanted to be part of this transformation and not left behind. The value it can bring to drive progression and development within organisations continues to excite me. I hope young women of the next generation are inspired to pursue careers in engineering and technology in the same way.”

Mentoring women throughout the industry

Roisin Wherry, GrayceRoisin Wherry, Data and Technology Specialist at Grayce reflects: “From my personal experience in the industry, I’ve seen first-hand how important it is to offer the right support to encourage more women into the field of STEM. Promoting more women into the industry, by fostering environments from school to work in which girls feel comfortable, should be a key priority for education bodies, along with businesses. Improving awareness of women’s industry networks and communities will help girls broaden their horizons of what opportunities are available and help tackle the issue of accessibility, and further down the line, help address the digital skills gap that is hindering innovation in our country.

“I believe peer-to-peer initiatives for those exploring the industry can then help create space for a diverse range of people in STEM and help begin their careers with confidence. Initiatives like mentorship programmes are also key to supporting a new generation of talent to kickstart their careers, as well as developing key skills for those already in industry to become the leaders of the future.”

Jane Saunders, Director of Engineering at Secondmind, said: “For me, the focus should be on parity and getting closer to equal numbers of men and women working in engineering. The reason we don’t have this parity is because so many women and girls get filtered out of the industry at every stage of their career and/or education.

“Everyone should have the opportunity to explore engineering and discover if it’s right for them.

“For that to work, opportunities must exist at all levels, from school to university and into the world of work.  Increasing the number of technology focused activities available to early years would help to ensure that engineering is not ruled out as an option early on. This would also show that engineering’s fun, while helping people understand what it’s about and that anyone who wants to do it, can do it.”

Jumana Al-Zubaidi, VP UK and Europe at Disperse agrees that visibility is the key to higher female representation in the industry: “Higher female representation in construction is beneficial for all parties involved.”

“Combating this starts at a young age and during early, formative years. By showcasing women thriving in male-dominated sectors, new generations can draw inspiration and believe that they too can achieve just as highly. Speaking from experience, throughout a woman’s journey into the construction sector, there is constant reinforcement that it is a male career and a man’s world. This can start at college or university, working alongside a large male majority, but rarely comes close to evening itself out at present.

“Female mentors can play a crucial role in combating this male dominance and help to make women feel more at home.”

“The value they bring by sharing their own personal experiences is far beyond what even well-meaning male mentors will be able to offer. If you don’t have a suitable mentor within your organisation, then try making a concerted effort to listen to your female staff. Hear their feedback and show that you have listened. Alternatively, look across industry for people outside your organisation that you can introduce them to, or even to other sectors – a woman’s experience and challenges in succeeding can be relatable and valuable even if not directly comparable.”


Smiling man and woman standing on weighing dishes of balance scale. Concept of gender equality at work or in business, equal rights for both sexes. Colorful vector illustration in flat cartoon style.

Balancing act: engineering a future for women in STEM

Sarah Glastonbury, part of the Senior Leadership Team at Creative ITC, explains that although progress is being made, there’s a lot more the IT sector can do to improve gender balance.

For years women have been under-represented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) university courses and occupations. Since 2015, the number of female graduates globally in core STEM subjects fluctuated between 24% and 26% in 2019 – where it has now stalled. The fact that the IT industry continues to be male dominated with women making up just 19% of the current tech workforce is therefore not surprising.

So, what can the tech sector to do redress this imbalance?

Change will do you good

The good news is, there are positive signs of change. Over the past decade, we’ve definitely seen inroads across the industry to improve diversity and equality, creating more opportunity and support for females to consider STEM careers. Campaigning and changing attitudes are also encouraging women to take up different roles and move into more senior positions within the sector.

A diverse team combining a mix of genders, ethnicities, experiences and backgrounds will incorporate different perspectives and viewpoints to enable better problem solving. Companies which become known for encouraging a more diverse workforce also benefit from attracting a wide talent pool.

Altering perceptions

At Creative we’re really proud that a third of our team is female. One was recently crowned employee of the year and another is one of the top virtualisation gurus on the planet. Yet, within the IT industry this seems to be the exception rather than the norm. Women have been put off by perceptions of the IT sector’s male-dominated working environment. It’s slowly changing, but we need to lose the perception that you need to be a male geek to work in IT. It’s not all about code, ones and zeros, soldering motherboards, and so on.

If you’re naturally analytical and method-minded, you’re already well on the way. Women have become known as natural multi-taskers. Many of us are working mums – we’re used to keeping lots of plates spinning, which is a great skill to have in such a fast-paced, ever-changing industry.

Many women have been put off pursuing tech careers by lack of flexible working. However, one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic is stigma around working from home has disappeared. It’s become completely acceptable to acknowledge that we’re all juggling work with personal lives. Conversations on maintaining work-life balance and wellbeing are now commonplace – and we’re all more relaxed as a result, men and women alike.

Two of the things I’ve most enjoyed about working in this sector are variety and the energetic pace. There’s always something new on the horizon. It’s fascinating to see how businesses go about adopting digital tech for competitive edge. The drive to be faster, smarter and leaner adds tremendous buzz and energy. The industry needs to get better at communicating this to attract the best talent.

Bringing the dream to life

More needs to be done to grow awareness at grass-roots level. Sadly, only 35% of girls study STEM subjects beyond GCSE, compared to 80% of boys. We need to change that and convince young women that starting a career in IT is a smart move.

We need to bring that dream alive – for example, by celebrating female tech leaders more. It’s important to have a variety of role models that young women can identify with. When you bring women into senior positions, you show that others have the opportunity to succeed too. Better online and media representation of females working in tech would help as well.

The diversity of roles within the sector is not widely understood. You don’t necessarily need to be good at maths or understand binary to be a software developer, for example. Neither would women intuitively associate an IT job advert with an opportunity that could lead to a long, lucrative career, which might take them around the world. To encourage diversity, recruiters need to get better at crafting job opportunities. Women are likely to be attracted to roles offering the ability to work creatively, travel and be well-rewarded, with benefits such as working flexibly around childcare and better maternity packages.

Remember there’s always a technical position out there that plays to your strengths. It’s just finding the right one that will enable you to thrive. And there’s never been a better time. The global IT field is crying out for young female talent.

Sarah GlastonburyAbout the author

An enthusiastic, versatile B2B marketeer with over 10 years of experience in the IT sector, Sarah leads marketing strategy, planning and execution for Creative Group. CIM-qualified and results-oriented, she has proven success in delivering exceptional business outcomes on the national and international stage.


Sara Boddy

International Women in Engineering Day: Sara Boddy shares her experience in STEM

Sara BoddySara Boddy is a Senior Director overseeing F5 Labs and Communities.

She came to F5 from Demand Media where she was the Vice President of Information Security and Business Intelligence. Sara ran the security team at Demand Media for 6 years; prior to Demand Media, she held various roles in the information security community over 11 years at Network Computing Architects and Conjungi Networks.

On International Women in Engineering Day, we speak to Sara Boddy about her experiences getting into the cybersecurity industry and her advice to aspiring students who are looking at joining this field.

When did you become interested in technology/engineering? How did you first get into the industry?

I started out in the security world back in the late 90s, three weeks after graduating high school. At that time, the practice of security was known as network security, and there weren’t university programs for it.

In fact, there were very few universities that even offered computer science degrees. I got a job as a receptionist for Conjungi Networks, which was owned by two guys in Seattle that were some of the more forward-leaning thinkers in the security space at that time. They kicked off their business by implementing Microsoft's first firewalls around 1995 and became known as security experts from that point on. We were one of the only businesses in the Seattle area doing firewall implementations, vulnerability assessments, penetration testing, incident response, etc. during that time.

They saw potential in me, and I started managing the backup tapes (which I wasn’t any good at) and, after a few years, I was doing base configurations on SonicWALL firewalls, writing statements of work and proofreading vulnerability assessments for customers. We deployed firewalls and intrusion detection systems, conducted vulnerability and risk assessments, and consulted our customers through a lot of incident response.  Things got really interesting when the company participated in a sting operation with the FBI as part of a big hacking extortion case impacting one of our customers. I think I was maybe 21 at the time and it was exciting work to me. That is when I knew I was going to be in this field for life! Four companies and 20 years later, I still work with Ray Pompon, who was the lead on that case at Conjungi.

How did you get to the position you’re in now?

The beginning of my career was in consulting, which meant I worked directly with customers on different kinds of projects – not just basic security control and implementation. I learnt how to consult around compliance, test for effectiveness of controls and define security programmes. Every way that you could fail in security, I've seen it from a consulting role, which was really good experience in the early days of my career.

After 12 years, I got a job in internal security. I stayed for seven years, progressing from a security manager up to the VP of Information Security and Business Intelligence.  The company went public while I was there, so I got to build a SOX program from the ground up. We also went through a public company split, and dozens of acquisitions. Some of our business divisions had high appetites for risk, and some were just big targets, like our domain registry and registrar businesses.  This put me in a position of constant incident response, and I started to crave something different. I think this type of situation causes a lot of security operators burn out. I moved on when one of my prior managers, who was working for F5, created the opportunity to start the F5 Labs threat intelligence team. This was very intriguing to me. I wanted to move from constant defense into proactive threat analysis and help other defenders that were experiencing the same issues I was. We just weren’t talking about it.  I was the first employee of F5 Labs and now, 4 years later, we are a team of 8 researchers that have published over 300 reports, articles and thought leadership blogs.

What is normal work week like for you?

I spend a large amount time in meetings talking about the latest research from my team. I also do my own research and writing when I find time at night. I’m always looking at large aggregated datasets to spot patterns and trends. The key is to gain insights into what the bad guys are up to prior to the day they start attacking systems. These insights help me consult with customers on the need to be proactive about security. This is all crucial work and puts businesses in a good position to defend themselves from threats by using the intel from the F5 Labs team.

Why do you think there is a lack of women in engineering and tech roles?

There’s no denying that engineering and technology is a male dominated industry. In my experience growing up, computers simply weren’t something many girls were interested in, perhaps because they weren’t marketed that way. I still think we're in a situation where computers and gaming are still very sexist worlds. I mention gaming specifically because that's how a lot of kids get passionate about computers. They've got gaming consoles and iPads and they want to figure out how they work, or they build their own gaming server. These products are still not being designed or marketed with girls in mind, and I think that contributes to a lack of interest on the female side. Plus, I don’t think there is enough awareness about what this field really is about. It’s really cool! It is constantly changing, there is never a dull moment, and you can make an impact on a global scale. People forget we depend on the internet for modern life to function, and it’s a very fragile ecosystem that needs a lot of help. We desperately need more women in this field!

Did you face any obstacles when it came to progressing in your career?

I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work for men that have always championed my successes. I've never had to fight for a promotion and I’ve always had leaders who saw potential in me and pushed me, which helped me grow. I realise not a lot of women have had the same support.

However, like every woman in this field, I’ve run into people that don't want to listen and assume you are inexperienced. No matter how many years I've been in this industry, I still have a lot of people come up to me after a talk and say things like “That was really great. You really do know what you're talking about.” Well, thank you for assuming I didn't! Or, when I’m giving a keynote speech, the expectation is that I got the opportunity because of an interest in diversity versus merit. I think the need to prove your worth or expertise is something a lot of woman in this industry grapple with. My speech coach tells me, “you have something to say, nothing to prove.” I still tell myself that before every opening line, whether it’s a meeting with a customer or a keynote. Women in STEM have to be confident and have thick skin.

How do you think businesses can make it more inclusive to women?

Continued funding from the tech industry for STEM schools is very important!

I also think we can help to overcome the gender gap by finding ways to tell cool stories about what this industry does. We need to drive early involvement at a governmental and local school level. More details about how cybersecurity makes an impact on the world would excite and inspire kids to get into the sector. It may be a while before we start seeing significant differences in terms of gender balance within the industry at all levels, but I’m positive that change is coming. With girls in primary school now learning coding, I’m hopeful we’ll have a more level playing field in years to come.

And would you say that you had a role model there anywhere who was female? Whether it be someone in a different business or someone you just don't even know?

I’ve always had really supportive managers and mentors, so I haven’t really had a reason to look for an external role model. I do think women in STEM are really good at creating community groups to congregate, talk and learn. We are very supportive of each other. There are definitely a few female CISOs that are active on social media that I pay attention to, but I don't know them personally.

What advice would you give to individuals trying to start a start either start or advance advanced their career in engineering or tech?

Getting involved in your local community is important. Knowing other people in the industry will give you a better idea of the sector and help when new job openings arise.

I think businesses in general need to get more comfortable hiring entry level employees too. There’s a common perception that if you don't have 10 to 15 years of experience, you won’t be able to solve the problem quickly, or you’re not going to be able to consult clients and implement good security controls. That is not necessarily true.

At F5 especially, we’re always on the lookout for smart, curious, ambitious people, especially those who are early on in their careers. I've had a lot of success hiring people right out of college. They’ve always been really keen to learn and grown their careers quickly, take a very creative approach to security and aren’t biased by “the way we do things”.


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woman wearing a white lab coat working on an engineering project, International Women in Engineering Day

Female engineers are more likely to be victims of recruitment bias when trying to get back to work

woman wearing a white lab coat working on an engineering project, International Women in Engineering Day

Women trying to return to the engineering industry after a career break are more likely to experience recruitment bias than men, according to a survey by STEM Returners.

The survey, published on International Women in Engineering Day, showed 27% of women feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their gender, compared to 8% of men. Furthermore, 30% of women said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to childcare responsibilities compared to 6% of men.

STEM Returners, based in Hampshire, is an organisation which returns highly qualified and experienced STEM professionals after a career break by working with employers to facilitate paid short-term employment placements. More than 150 engineers have returned to work through the scheme.

Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners, said: “The UK engineering industry needs to recruit 182,000 engineers annually to keep up with demand – this is not news. But despite this very clear and desperate skills shortage, 61% of STEM professionals on a career break are finding the process of attempting to return to work either difficult or very difficult and women are bearing the brunt of this challenge.

“There is a perception that a career break automatically leads to a deterioration of skills. But the reality is, that many people on a career break keep themselves up to date with their industry, are able to refresh their skills easily when back in work and have developed new transferable skills that would actually benefit their employers.

“STEM organisations are clearly missing a major opportunity to get highly skilled, talented females back into the industry.”

The STEM Returners Index, which was carried out in collaboration with the Women’s Engineering Society, surveyed a group of more than 750 STEM professionals on a career break who are attempting to return to work or who have recently returned to work.

More than half of respondents looking to return to work have been on a career break for less than two years and around 36% of returners felt that bias in the recruitment process was a barrier to them personally returning to their career.

The survey revealed that the pool of STEM professionals attempting to return to industry is significantly more diverse than the average STEM organisation. Over half of the survey respondents attempting to return to work were female and 38% were from black and minority ethnic (BME) groups, compared to 8% female and 6% BME working in industry.

In the survey 22% of respondents said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their race or ethnicity, while 67% of BME respondents said they are finding it difficult or very difficult to return to work, compared to 57% white British respondents.

Elizabeth Donnelly, CEO of the Women’s Engineering Society said: “Sadly, while the results of this survey are concerning, they are not surprising. We have seen that worryingly, STEM professionals from under-represented ethnicities find it more difficult to return to work and additionally, women are six times more likely to state that a lack of flexibility in working hours to allow for childcare responsibilities is a barrier to return.

“Many of these professionals took a career break for reasons outside of their control, but now, due to changing circumstances, are ready to get back to work. They are a highly educated, highly experienced and highly diverse group of STEM professionals who should not be overlooked. STEM organisations, industry leaders and hiring managers need to take note and think more broadly about how they access this hidden talent pool, giving talented professionals a fair chance.”

Haley StoreyHaley Storey, from Hampshire, is now in an engineering role after being away from the industry for 17 years. Haley took part in one of STEM Returners programmes with BAE Systems based in Portsmouth. After completing a 12-week placement working on a Type 45 Destroyer, she has now joined the company permanently as a Project Engineer, helping to find engineering solutions during ship maintenance or upkeep periods.

“I left my role as a production manager in 2003 when I started my family,” Haley said. “I was self-employed after that but as my role wasn’t related to engineering, I couldn’t see a way to get back in when I wanted to restart my career.

“The STEM Returner scheme seemed to be directed at people just like me – someone who had previously been in a technical job but had been away for a period of time.

“My CV would probably not have made the first round of the recruitment process, but the scheme enabled me to work alongside an experienced engineer and I was able to learn from him and get to grips with the workings of a large organisation. 

“Career breaks should not put good people at the bottom of the list – we still have ability, knowledge and often transferable skills so it would be great for that to be recognised.”

Rebecca Pearce, BAE Systems Maritime Services, added: “Over the years we’ve recruited fantastic talent that we wouldn’t normally have had access to. We really want to celebrate the success and calibre of candidates we’ve recruited through the STEM Returner programme, and to recommend that more people use this method of recruitment.”

To read the full report, click here.


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Two Female College Students Building Machine In Science Robotics Or Engineering Class

International Women in Engineering Day: How diversity and inclusion helps drive business success

Two Female College Students Building Machine In Science Robotics Or Engineering Class

Article by Laura Fink, VP People, Healx

Technology is one of the most sought-after sectors to work for in the country, yet representation within the industry fails to reflect this.

In fact, only 15% of the technology workforce is made up of people from BAME backgrounds, and 19% of all workers in the sector are women. This year’s International Women in Engineering Day offers an opportunity to reflect on the key benefits that diversity and inclusion bring - both to the tech sector and beyond - and inspire one another to take action and create company cultures where everyone can thrive. Because one thing is for sure: whether it’s bolstering growth and innovation, attracting world-class talent or gaining investor trust, diversity is key to long-term business success.

Bolstering growth and innovation

The secret to coming up with innovative ideas and solutions is asking a diverse group to deliver them. Teams from different ages, genders, races and backgrounds offer a melting pot of knowledge and experiences that a homogenous group simply do not. This allows them to solve problems more efficiently, moving the business forward at a faster, more considered pace and ultimately reaping greater financial rewards. Indeed, McKinsey found that companies which have a leadership team over 30% female were more likely to perform better than those with less executive representation. The message is clear: the more that businesses focus on creating a diverse workforce, the bigger the impact on innovation and growth. At Healx, we are passionate about bolstering diversity and inclusion in our business. Our leadership team currently stands at 36% women and non-binary representation, and in the last 12 months, we’ve increased the percentage of women and non-binary individuals from 9% to 33% in our technology team. This focus has provided our teams with countless new opinions, experiences and opportunities to drive innovation and change for rare disease sufferers.

Attracting and retaining world-class talent

There’s an old phrase that says, “you have to see it to believe it”, and that couldn’t be truer when it comes to nurturing talent. Employees - and potential new hires - want to be able to see themselves reflected in their work, their teams and their leaders. Where they can, they are more likely to join or stay with a company, but where they can’t, team members are left feeling demotivated, undervalued and unseen. It’s important that companies proactively seek to attract and retain diverse talent, and the COVID-19 pandemic has provided many organisations with a welcome opportunity to update their practices, so that they can become more flexible and inclusive. At Healx, some of the things that enabled us to make such a shift in the representation of our workforce included actively widening our hiring net beyond our Cambridge base and reviewing our interview and referral processes to ensure we attracted a diverse funnel of candidates. We also undertook an internal review of our employee policies to ensure we were supporting all team members equitably; this included introducing a fully-paid additional leave option to enable people to balance work and life commitments during the pandemic, updating our health and life insurance policies, improving our parental leave offering, and moving towards a hybrid model of working that empowered people to work in the way that best suited them. Like many companies, the pandemic really pushed us to bring flexibility and empathy further into the core of our culture, and we hope to continue building an environment where employees feel represented and supported. This is critical for business success and can help organisations attract - and keep - world-class talent that will drive forward their mission.

Aligning with investors

Many companies today rely on external investment to grow, but, increasingly, investors are expecting organisations to prioritise diversity and inclusion before they commit any money. Indeed, 63% of UK investors are now screening potential companies to ensure that they comply with internal diversity and inclusion metrics, whilst VC firms like Atomico and Balderton are amongst a cohort of investment companies benchmarked for their diversity and inclusion policies. Investors understand that inclusive hiring leads to a better understanding of the market, improved decision-making and enhanced performance - so it makes market sense for them to invest in companies who are already on the front foot when it comes to thinking about diversity and inclusion. For businesses looking for investment, it’s important that they demonstrate an active commitment to building a diverse and inclusive business, if they hope to secure funding and scale.

The diversity challenge within the tech sector won’t be solved overnight. However, if businesses want to remain ahead of the curve and drive change, they must make equality and inclusion a concrete priority. Diverse teams provide companies with opportunities for growth, improved talent acquisition and retention, and alignment with value-driven investors. This International Women in Engineering Day, companies must understand why embracing diversity and inclusion is critical, or they will risk lagging behind forever.

Laura FinkAbout the author

Laura has over 20 years' experience in international HR roles across a variety of industries including media, sales and tech. She has worked in HR, recruiting, employee engagement, organisational change and diversity roles in both blue chip and start-up companies and is passionate about helping companies scale effectively. Mostly recently Laura led the HR function at a fintech in the blockchain space. Previously she led EMEA recruitment teams at Google to help scale the company during a period of incredible growth.

At Healx she is responsible for building effective people programs that enable us to attract great talent and drive the growth and development of our people and the business.

 


WeAreTechWomen covers the latest female centric news stories from around the world, focusing on women in technology, careers and current affairs. You can find all the latest gender news here

Don’t forget, you can also follow us via our social media channels for the latest up-to-date gender news. Click to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube