Two Female College Students Building Machine In Science Robotics Or Engineering Class, International Women in Engineering Day

The theme for this year’s International Women in Engineering Day is ‘shape the world’: a call to action for women (and men) to challenge gender disparity in the engineering sector.

International Women in Engineering Day is an annual event that showcases the incredible work of female engineers and it aims to encourage more people to think of engineering as a profession for all.

Currently, there is a considerable lack of female representation in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industry – with women making up just 12.37 per cent of all engineers in the UK, the lowest numbers of any country in Europe.

For young girls, whose future choices are heavily influenced by today’s experiences, lack of visible female representation fuels the misconception that engineering is a career for men wearing high-vis jackets. Whilst people are now more comfortable questioning gender bias in the industry, diversity now being a recognisable issue, there is still a long way to go before gender parity is achieved.

WeAreTheCity, spoke to six female STEM experts to learn about their own career experiences in the engineering industry, and advice for how best to #ShapeTheWorld this International Women in Engineering Day.

STEM starts at school

Imogen Smith, Content GuruSTEM subjects such as engineering are often looked at as being harder for women. This often starts in primary school, where girls can feel social pressures from peers of their local community, to pursue other avenues, like humanities and arts.

Imogen Smith, Applications Engineer at Content Guru, describes her own experience of being deterred from following her passion for mathematics during her A Levels: “At school, I was encouraged to do History or Law over Maths by our Pastoral Care Department and Head of Sixth Form. In fact, the school wasn’t planning on running the Further Maths A-level at all, as it ‘wasn’t a real A level’. But I liked how Maths is so logical, which is probably what drew me to it initially. I think I was always going to end up doing a STEM subject because both my parents have PhDs in Sciences, so I learned to love it from a young age. I consider myself very lucky in that respect.”

Jacquelyn-Ferrari, ConnectWise“While I haven’t experienced the common bias against women in tech myself, I recognise the disparity between the genders in the field,” explains Jacquelyn Ferrari, Principal Software Engineer at ConnectWise. “This is largely because women are often deterred from STEM before their careers can even begin. For years, schools didn’t take steps to foster young girls’ love for these subjects, so their interest quickly dropped off. For me, playing video games sparked my interest in engineering. Now, women make up nearly half of the video gamers in the U.S., so I hope those numbers will rise.

“Even as more women enter the field, we must address these social issues and show girls that their enthusiasm can translate into rewarding careers from the start. Organisations like Girls Who Code provide outlets for young women in STEM, but we can also create new programs in our communities, dedicate personal time to educating women and ask our companies to bring resources to underserved communities.”

Make female engineers visible

Agnes Schliebitz-Ponthus, Fluent Commerce 1With girls finding themselves encouraged to pursue alternative paths from a young age, Agnes Schliebitz-Ponthus, Director Consulting at Fluent Commerce, argues that it’s important to remind and encourage women and young girls to consider a career in the STEM sector. This is because, “STEM careers such as engineering are male-dominated, with misconception lying in the myth that men are for some reason better suited to these careers. Research suggests that at primary school age, girls and boys are equally excited by these topics. It is by the time they reach senior school, that gender socialisation has already done enough “damage” to impact girls’ enthusiasm for STEM.

“In my own 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.”

Challenge expectations, go for promotions

Agata Nowakowska, SkillsoftAgata Nowakowska, Area Vice President EMEA at Skillsoft, said that it’s not just about recruiting women into STEM, but challenging unconscious gender bias’ and personal expectations, so that they can progress their careers. She suggests: “If we want to see more women in these industries, we need to change how women relate to STEM subjects, and how they measure their own potential. Women are often tougher on themselves, not giving themselves the recognition they truly deserve. Research shows that from primary school age, girls are significantly less likely than boys to view themselves as capable of becoming an engineer if they wanted to. And when looking for a new role, women will apply only if they feel that they meet 95% of the job description, whereas men may apply for the role even if that percentage is much lower.

“Encouraging women to pursue a career in engineering and other STEM disciplines means challenging the unconscious bias that they are not as capable. Women should be confident in their abilities, and not be held back from going for a job, a promotion, or from asking for a pay rise.”

Accelerate change

Debra Danielson, Digital GuardianIn order to accelerate change, Debra Danielson, Chief Technology Officer & SVP of Engineering at Digital Guardian highlights the importance of supporting and participating in events and organisations that help mentor and inspire women. She explains: “Over the past decade I’ve been coaching, mentoring, and guiding women in the industry by supporting and participating in some really great organisations dedicated to leveling the playing field for women and minorities in tech, including Springboard Enterprises, Tech Girls Rock, WITI (Women in Technology International), and the Anita Borg Institute.

“Initiatives like Women in Engineering Day shine a light on how far we as an industry, have to go. At Digital Guardian I’m fortunate to be surrounded by an amazing and diverse team. I never want to work again in an organisation where I’m the “odd man out,” and I’d love it if all women had the opportunity to experience this in their careers.”

Support diversity initiatives

Samantha-Humphries Exabeam“Diversity is now a conversation and a recognisable issue in the industry – which is a step in the right direction,” concludes Samantha Humphries, Security Strategist at Exabeam. “More people are comfortable talking about it and voicing their opinion, and there are more opportunities and safe spaces for people today, which is vital.

“For the last three years, I’ve been involved in The Diana Initiative, which is one of the many conferences that take place at ‘Hacker Summer Camp’ in Las Vegas. They’ve done an amazing job of creating a safe space focused on diversity and inclusion in cybersecurity, where participants feel comfortable to network and learn, and be inspired by speakers at a conference that embraces everyone. I’m also proud to be part of the ExaGals program, which looks to support and empower the women of Exabeam, as well as women in the technology community at large, with career development, education and personal growth opportunities.

“My hope is that by supporting programs that expose and encourage women and girls to the possibilities of an education and career in tech, we can help address the skills shortage by introducing new perspectives and problem-solving skills to the industry.”

International Women in Engineering Day brings to light problems of gender disparity within the engineering sector, but it also enables us to showcase the incredible female (and male) engineers that are working hard each day to make positive change. By giving platform to their voices, and creating opportunities for more girls and women in the industry, we can help to #ShapeTheWorld.

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