Female software engineer with projected code

What can be done to encourage and retain more women into STEM?  

Female software engineer with projected code

8th November marks STEM Day, which aims to encourage more people into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industries.

It’s a well-known and standing fact that women are underrepresented in STEM; women make up only 16% of engineering and technology graduates.

We asked female leaders of prominent tech companies to share what they think should be done to encourage women into and retain women in STEM:

Time for businesses to take charge

“Businesses and institutions need to change. There is no excuse in 2022 not to have balanced, diversified, and inclusive teams.” Liz Parnell, COO, EMEA, Rackspace Technology argues. “Teach unconscious bias as part of your company onboarding; and walk the talk every day with your policies, behaviours and level of transparency.”

Laura Malins, VP Product, Matillion agrees: “Greater transparency is important. Companies’ values need to be made clearer so women can identify an employer whose values mirror their own. That will give them the freedom and support needed to test out different areas of tech and find roles that provide them both with the right work-life balance, and the opportunity to add value to the business.”

“Businesses need to make a conscious effort to recruit employees from a diverse range of backgrounds.” Clare Loveridge, VP and General Manager EMEA, Arctic Wolf states. “This will allow businesses to attract more talent and develop more creative ways of thinking, contributing to the development of highly innovative solutions to the complex challenges facing leaders today.”

Siobhan Ryan, Sales Director Ireland and Scotland, UiPath remarks on how businesses can help their female workforce: “Businesses need to ensure women are inspired and able to contribute, participate and enjoy their roles. Mentoring programmes, community networks, and supported learning opportunities can help women to grow and succeed.”

Businesses need to carefully think about their approaches to diversity and inclusion strategies to make change, argues Pam Maynard, CEO, Avanade: “Fundamentally, there is an issue with the way some organisations approach DE&I, only paying it lip service to keep employees happy and avoid difficult conversations. It's time for change, and diversity needs to be tackled head on and from the very top.”

“Despite the sector having strong female leaders in the NHS, with the national CIO and CTO being women, we continue to overlook providing the right funding and support for women pursuing STEM careers in health at every level.” Katherine Church, Tech+ Director, Grayce offers an insight into closing the gender gap in health tech. “We need to increase the levels of VC and PE funding for Femtech and female founders so that women’s health issues and careers are properly addressed.”

Fostering opportunities 

“STEM Day comes as a needed reminder that we must continue to encourage girls and women to study STEM subjects and provide opportunities that will help them to develop skills in the space.” says EJ Cay, VP UKI, Genesys

Estella Reed, Head of People, Distributed argues that those not from STEM-oriented educational backgrounds should still be encouraged into STEM: “When government and businesses dismiss so-called “softer” or “mickey mouse” university courses and qualifications, they are limiting the diversity of their workforces and ability to access the best talent. Many of the best software engineers working in the industry, for example, come from arts and humanities backgrounds.”

Sue-Ellen Wright, Managing Director of Aerospace Defence and Security, Sopra Steria, agrees that diversity in recruitment is essential: “The challenge the tech industry faces is that, to increase creativity, it must improve diversity to further encourage a broader range of perspectives and ideas.”

“In a male-dominated industry, it is critical we continue to pursue diversity of thought, especially as we seek to apply the “digital” truths we have learned from the past thirty years or so.” Caroline Vignollet, SVP Research & Development, OneSpan gives her view on the importance of diversity in tech. “For example, as we explore new technologies and digital experiences, such as in web 3.0, we are doing so with all the available talent, understanding and approaches at our disposal.”

Accessibility is key, Jamie Lyon, Vice President of Strategy and Development, Lucid Software notes: “It's important for STEM-related educational and career development opportunities to be more accessible to women. These build a foundation of interest and technical skill sets for women wanting to enter the tech industry.”

Women need to be able to access the same educational opportunities as their male peers to succeed. “Recent research shows that men are over a third more likely to receive digital upskilling than their female counterparts.” Mairead O'Connor, Exec for Cloud Engineering, AND Digital  observes. “This needs to change.”

For Poornima Ramaswamy, Chief Transformation Officer, Qlik, this education should include data and digital skills: “We must ensure girls are taught relevant data and digital skills at an early age to prepare them for the increasingly data-centric world we now live in. Our research found business leaders and employees alike predict that data literacy will be the most in-demand skill by 2030.”

The importance of self-confidence

Najla Aissaoui, Talent Acquisition & HR manager, Venari Security states: “For girls and women looking at a career in STEM, never underestimate your power and skills. Don’t be afraid to try and fail, just make sure to learn from your failures.”

Pantea Razzaghi, Head of Design, Automata encourages women to not bow down to pressure: “For women in STEM, it can feel like there’s added pressure to succeed and even outperform, as the industry is still very much male-dominated. However, often we are our biggest critics. My advice for young women early into their science and engineering journey will be to not dwell on mistakes for too long. Mistakes are a critical part of scientific discovery – that’s how innovation works.”

“My sincere advice; don’t listen too much to what others have to say about you or your ability to thrive in this sector.” Renske Galema, Area VP, North EMEA at CyberArk concludes. “Follow your own mind and find the fun in continuous learning.”

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

In 2021, are we doing enough to support women in engineering?

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

By Stefania Leone, Staff Product Manager at Databricks

In June 1919, the UK’s National Council of Women founded the Women’s Engineering Society – a group dedicated to the training and employment of women in technical and engineering work following the First World War.

A century later, however, only 11% of all engineers in the UK are women, the lowest percentage across Europe.  There has been an increase in diversity and inclusion efforts generally in recent years, but clearly there are barriers still in place that are keeping the number of women in engineering at a worryingly low level.

Encouraging women through education

A recent study found that when asked to draw a mathematician, girls were twice as likely to draw a man, highlighting the extent to which our society is stuck in harmful gender conformities and stereotypes.

While we are no longer telling young women that they aren’t able to or shouldn’t pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), there is an alarming difference in how confident young people are when it comes to engineering careers. Research from Engineering UK found that while 55% of boys aged 16 to 19 would consider a role in engineering, only 33% of girls felt the same, despite 94% of girls in the same age range agreeing that engineering is suitable for both boys and girls. There is something holding young women back and while it’s clear that the girls feel that engineering is a possibility for them, the confidence and desire to enter this space doesn’t seem to be there. For me personally, a lack of representation has a huge role to play in this. The more women that work in engineering, the better – they can inspire younger generations, trailblaze paths that others can follow, and be mentors to those that need guidance, all of which should help contribute to more women pursuing STEM roles in future.

Being the role model women deserve

Studies have found that women at university level are more likely to pursue a career in STEM when they are assigned female professors rather than male ones. During my studies, I was exposed to a number of female educators and surrounded by other female students too – seeing other people like me helped to keep me motivated and driven. My experience has shown that women attract women. For women in engineering, the lack of visibility of women in the sector is likely having long term ramifications. It’s the responsibility of women in these positions to act as role models and educate. It’s on us, the women, the leaders, and the educational system to show future generations that a career in engineering is desirable and a highly rewarding and stimulating place to be. After all, we’re the ones already doing it, so we’re best placed to tell our story and share our vision.

Beyond us as individuals educating and encouraging young women, organisations need to take more action to pass on knowledge and support and champion staff internally. For example, Databricks has its own Women in Technology mentorship programme which encourages women to share their experience with junior members of the team to empower them and help accelerate their progression. On top of programmes such as these, organisations should start to think about the kind of role models that they are offering their people. Our managers are really important for our career development – having someone who is not only motivating and shares their experience and knowledge but also enables the team to feel psychologically safe, to take risks and make their own decisions, is key.

Seeing someone who looks like you, and has had similar experiences, in a senior position will help women to both enter and aim high in engineering – for this reason, it’s critical we have more women in these positions to encourage other women and influence organisations to give back and be more accessible. I try to be a role model to the young women at work, my mentees but also in my personal life, to my daughter and her friends. There is a long way to go, but we must pave the way for future generations to show them that technology and engineering is the place to be – for everyone – and that it can also be combined with personal goals like a family. Representation is one of the key things that is going to drive women into engineering roles; if we want to see further positive change, we must take action and be the change we want to see. The problem isn’t going to fix itself.

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

International Women in Engineering Day: Everyone has a part to play

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

There are now over 50,000 women in engineering professional roles in the UK – almost double the number a decade ago.

However, the number of women in tech roles has flatlined at 16 per cent since 2009. The industry has a clear role to play in managing this disconnect and encouraging women to consider a career in engineering.

This is why days such as International Women in Engineering Day are so important. Not only is it a day for women to recognise and reflect on their success, it also provides the industry with the opportunity to make sure it continues to engage women and put measures in place to support their entry into engineering and other STEM roles.

The root of the problem

Sara Boddy

Women still only account for just over 10 per cent of engineering professionals. According to Sara Boddy, Senior Director, F5 Labs: “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.”

So, what’s the answer to this problem? Sara believes the solution lies in finding ways to tell interesting stories about what this industry does. “We need to drive early involvement at state 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.”

Creating a welcoming environment

Aine McCaugheyA supportive and nurturing environment is also essential to retaining and encouraging new talent. For Aine McCaughey, Senior Software Engineer at Civica, this is achieved through training: “When I saw an advertisement on Twitter that Code First Girls was looking for volunteers to help teach its Introduction to HTML, CSS, and JavaScript course, it was something that I couldn’t pass up. Women come from all backgrounds and career paths to take part in these courses, and in some cases, we see participants seriously consider switching careers to give tech a chance. It is incredibly humbling and exciting to be part of something that nurtures women and allows them to explore all the options that a tech career can offer them.”

Aine is currently participating in the Civica Potential programme, a leadership course that will also provide her with a qualification. “Taking this course is allowing me to develop skills such as time management, conflict resolution, and managing a budget. These skills will be hugely beneficial in equipping me to take on leadership and mentoring roles in the future and ensuring I can continue to support young professionals entering the industry.”

Natasha KiroskaWomen should also feel empowered in the workplace, and Natasha Kiroska, Solutions Engineer at IPsoft believes this can be achieved through a number of ways. “Ladies entering the profession should follow their passion and their dreams, believe in themselves, and work hard at the same time. They should gravitate only towards people, professionals, and companies that will appreciate their work and contributions, and will give them the chance to grow and prove themselves. They shouldn’t feel intimidated by anyone else’s behaviour, as we all come from different cultures and backgrounds. Finally, they should always remain professional, take every opportunity that comes their way, and enjoy their amazing STEM journey.”

International Women in Engineering Day provides women in the industry with a day to celebrate their successes, but it should also be a reminder of how much more work there is to be done to increase the number of roles held by women across the sector. From ensuring young people are educated on a career in engineering in school, all the way through to creating a nurturing working environment, the responsibility is on everyone to make sure more women consider a career in engineering.

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Women in engineering, International Women in Engineering Day

International Women in Engineering Day: Insights from 11 top female engineers

Women in engineering, International Women in Engineering Day

To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day and this year’s theme of engineering heros, we have collated the thoughts of a number of female engineers across the tech industry.

Here they share their thoughts on the challenges they’ve faced, their advice for other women and what they hope to see in the future.

Elizabeth Irzarry, Engineering Manager, Glovo:

“This year’s International Women in Engineering Day, and its theme of engineering heroes serves to both highlight the achievements of women in the space and encourage the next generation of female talent.

“At Glovo, we’re creating a culture that is diverse and ultimately accessible for everyone. This includes championing our female engineers. By doing this we hope to encourage more women to join our growing tech hubs in Spain and Poland and be a core part of scaling our engineering teams worldwide.

“Without more female role models, young women continue to view a career in STEM as one dominated by men, so this International Women in Engineering Day let’s continue to break down the status quo and empower more women to start their engineering career.”

Xiaojue Fu, Senior Data Engineer in Data & Business Intelligence, Airwallex:

“Being a woman in engineering can be challenging - there is still a view among some people that our technical skills aren't as good. But this is not the case, and young women shouldn’t be discouraged from pursuing a career in STEM. I’ve learnt that by diving into my responsibilities and demonstrating my capabilities as an engineer shows others around me I am more than qualified.

"Personally, I would love to see more women in engineering. You work on truly interesting and innovative projects. My advice to young women is, if you want to pursue a career in engineering, act on it! Don't be afraid of testing the barriers. Be confident in your own skills - challenging stereotypes in a male-dominated sector is something we must continue to encourage and bring more talented women into the field.

"At Airwallex, we’re surrounded by an extremely motivated, talented young team. This year’s theme of ‘engineering heroes’ resonates well with me. I am constantly inspired and energised by the people, and it is these people that are the true heroes and who drive me to always want to do my best.”

Areeba Yusaf, Software Engineer at Cervest:

“The more women and people from different backgrounds that enter a career in STEM, the more our field will benefit. If I could give someone considering going into engineering one piece of advice, it’d be: don’t let anyone hold you back because of your gender - your ideas and input are important and valuable!

“I'm currently helping build the world's first AI-powered Climate Intelligence platform. What I love most about my job is the creativity: I need lots of it to solve problems and build our products. Our team is truly multidisciplinary, spanning climate science, data science and advanced computing. Together, we’re helping make the world better manage the risks of climate change. The diversity of our team makes our work easier, and more fun, too. That’s why we’re celebrating this year’s International Women in Engineering Day.”

V Brennan, Regional Lead Engineering EMEA at Slack:

“The benefits of flexible working have become clear for all industries in the past year. Yet research conducted by our consortium, Future Forum, found that there has been a disproportionate burden on working mothers as they often have to juggle work with caregiving. As a mother first and engineering leader second, flexibility is key to my performance, both personally and professionally. Therefore, the message is clear: business leaders need to do more to give employees autonomy over their time and promote a healthy work-life balance.

“For me, flexible working has eradicated a three-hour commute and allowed me to take my children to school and exercise daily—I get to take care of them and myself. Embracing hybrid working and tools that enable asynchronous work levels the playing field for everyone, shifting the focus from time ‘present’ to quality and outcomes. I’ve always worked remotely at Slack, which meant that sometimes I couldn’t participate in important, in-person initiatives. Now in a remote-first world, I can be involved in major projects without sacrificing family time or work-life balance. This International Women in Engineering Day, leaders must encourage and implement a flexible culture where all employees can thrive. Championing flexibility will create an empowering and inclusive environment built for the new world of hybrid work.”

International Women in Engineering Day banner

Monica Jianu, Senior Software Engineer at Healx:

“International Women in Engineering Day is an opportunity to recognise and champion women in engineering and allied professions. As it stands, less than 13 per cent of all engineers in the UK are women, so this serves as a day to encourage and inspire young women to pursue careers in the industry.

“Although we’re seeing more girls take core-STEM subjects at GCSE and a larger proportion of women enrolling on undergraduate courses in such subjects, there is still a long way to go; more must be done to raise awareness of the disparities in STEM and break them down.

“While my background was in computer science, I was fortunate enough to undertake an industrial placement in a multi-disciplinary scientific environment during my degree. From this experience, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in this space, working alongside scientists to solve real-world problems, often (but not always!) using technology. So for those women and girls thinking about progressing in the STEM field, go for it and seize the opportunity; and for leaders in these workplaces, ensure you have an inclusive and representative work environment, or risk missing out on the next generation of talent.”

Kadi Laidoja, Lead Engineer at Pipedrive:

“Recent data reveals inclusive and diverse companies are 70% more likely to lead and capture new markets. The more diverse the company, the more great ideas and business opportunities the team can potentially come up with. On International Women in Engineering Day, we have an opportunity to celebrate one aspect of diversity - female representation in the engineering profession - highlighting the benefits of women and girls pursuing a career in this field, and how to do it!

“As Lead Engineer at Pipedrive, I am fortunate enough to work with a team of like-minded individuals on complex, challenging and rewarding projects that make a difference to the world. There’s something for everyone in engineering - no matter where your interest lies. For those thinking of pursuing a career in engineering or an allied profession, I would recommend you take the time to explore your passions and let your strengths guide you on your career path. This way you will always maximize your full potential and have an enjoyable and fulfilling career.”

Lisa Sheridan, Engineer at Envoy:

“According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, it will take another 100 years to achieve gender equality based on the current rate of progress. Worse still, in the UK, fewer than 13% of all engineers are women. What are the reasons for this disparity, and the gender imbalance within the engineering sector? Lots of theories have been proffered, but one of the main causes is culture. “Engineering and allied professions are frequently perceived as ‘male-dominated fields’ and women attempting to pursue a career or progress in engineering can fall victim to unconscious bias or sexism from peers. While old habits die hard, they can and must be altered.

“At Envoy, we actively challenge the status quo and our approach to diversity and inclusion. Instead of treating diverse talent as a separate talent pool, myself and the team look at it for what it truly is - attracting and retaining the best talent possible. Actively looking inward at why we hire, promote and retain employees, ensures we avoid unconscious or conscious bias. Enabling us to focus on what matters - working in a profession that challenges and interests us, and focusing on our own abilities and what we can achieve in our career. The future of work is continually changing, but those organisations that don’t focus on creating an inclusive and diverse workforce risk losing talent and being left behind.”

Bella Kazwell, Engineering Manager at Asana:

“Engineering is a problem-solving career with limitless opportunities to learn and grow - we have the opportunity to make a real difference by designing, maintaining, and improving aspects of our day-to-day lives. At Asana we’re doing that for the world of work: We’re building a tool to help companies of all sizes work across industries collaborate as effortlessly as possible. From global enterprises to nonprofit organizations, it’s empowering to know that the work we’re doing on the engineering team helps teams stay connected, aligned and on track.

“While most people use software on a regular basis, its makers remain largely white and male, making it close to impossible to ensure that products are built with a truly global audience in mind. In fact, both in the US and the UK, 13% or less of all engineers are women – a worrying statistic and one that needs addressing quickly. On International Women in Engineering Day, I want to take the opportunity to celebrate this field and its ability to solve real-world problems, and hopefully inspire girls and women to follow suit and take up a career in engineering or an allied profession.

“In addition, imposter syndrome is on the rise, with 62 per cent of global knowledge workers having experienced it last year, a statistic that rises to  73% among women in the UK. For business leaders, to attract and retain brilliant female engineers, it’s vital to cultivate an inclusive environment to support our women in engineering, from providing coaching benefits and mentorship at every career stage.”

Charlene Marini, Chief Product and Marketing Officer at Pelion:

“I grew up in a supportive family environment where engineering and computers were central to discussions and activities. Pursuing a career in engineering was a natural path. Through childhood, I was not always an eager participant in the latest project. I sometimes went off track (turning a computer board soldering project into a jewelry-making project in one instance). But over time, I found the problem solving and challenging nature of engineering to be highly motivating. Tackling a problem and producing a tangible working product as a result, be it code or a machine or other, was, and is, extremely rewarding.

“Being a female engineer is not without its challenges. I have appreciated the supportive and vibrant environment of colleagues and mentors. Technologists care about progress and impact; we all have that in common and it creates a like-minded community ready to tackle anything.

“The next generation of female engineers has an amazing opportunity to enable purpose driven technological innovation with impactful outcomes for individual and societal wellbeing. Combining engineering skills with core scientific disciplines is shifting focus from areas like communications and semiconductors to solutions that can combat climate change, transformational medical diagnosis and therapy, and enable increased natural resource efficiency.”

Bee Hayes-Thakore, Senior Director of Marketing and Partnerships at Kigen:

“I was drawn to engineering with a particular fascination with all things aeronautical, spending my idle hours around the airfields that were close to my grandmother’s home in India. My curiosity led to many warranties becoming void, which helped me appreciate that engineering was a great way to find solutions to problems through our understanding of physics and the natural world. This was in the days of hand-writing BASIC and LOGO command programs and having to wait in line to test and verify them on scarce early school computers. I’m glad that these experiences have enabled me to apply my engineering skills across aerospace, robotics and computing.

“Today technology is woven into the fabric of our lives and engineers’ work has life-changing ramifications on our collective future. The advent of machine learning, the ability to harness data, technology that shapes efficient and greener smart cities are all areas for the next generation of female engineers: I say ‘Dare mighty things!’. Let’s also not forget the many examples that have been highlighted recently showing that more female engineers result in better user-focused and bias-corrected products across all sectors.”

Chrystal Taylor, Head Geek, SolarWinds:

“After more than 10 years in IT, I still love being part of it. IT is a space of innovation, learning, surprises, creation, and challenges. Just as everyone likes to describe their local weather: if you don’t like it, wait a minute. It’s interesting, and opportunities are abundant if you look. Like most things in life, it’s better with diversity of ideas, thoughts, and opinions. There’s no right path to tech or through tech. You can go the college/university route, the certification route, or just gain experience on the job like I did. If you’re considering tech, know that there are more opportunities than ever before – especially with the ongoing digital transformation and considerations for remote workers because of the pandemic. If you get bored, burnt out, or tired of doing something in tech, learn something new and look for an opportunity to use your new skills. If you enjoy learning, as I do, and the challenge that comes with an industry that is always changing, join us as we need more female representation.”

Discover more for International Women in Engineering Day:

Engineering studentsWhat does the perfect engineering graduate look like?

For some time now, there has been a bit of a disconnect between how universities and engineering companies — and even the world at large — view the ideal engineering graduate.

According to a survey by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, nearly 3 out of 4 businesses are worried about the practical, work-related skills of graduated students — and if they are able enough to enter into the work. The concern here being, that engineering graduates have plenty of academic knowledge, but in a way that doesn’t really translate well outside of educational institutions.

For engineers, this is yet another concern to be added to the pile. There is already a massive recruitment shortage in engineering. The last thing the sector needs is a skills shortage in the few who do apply.

Read the full piece here

The importance of women in STEM, post-pandemic

Although working from home has been a positive experience in the sense of boosting productivity and enhancing work life balance, several studies have shown that female employees have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

For example, many female parents have been left feeling completely exhausted, having to juggle work with caring responsibilities such as homeschooling. According to a study from the Office for National Statistics, more women reported that home schooling was having a negative impact on their wellbeing, with 53 percent struggling compared to 45 per cent of men.

Read the full article


Engineering students

What does the perfect engineering graduate look like?

Engineering students

Article provided by Sarah Acton, a metalworking fluids sales engineer, who writes for Akramatic Engineering

For some time now, there has been a bit of a disconnect between how universities and engineering companies — and even the world at large — view the ideal engineering graduate.

According to a survey by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, nearly 3 out of 4 businesses are worried about the practical, work-related skills of graduated students — and if they are able enough to enter into the work. The concern here being, that engineering graduates have plenty of academic knowledge, but in a way that doesn’t really translate well outside of educational institutions.

For engineers, this is yet another concern to be added to the pile. There is already a massive recruitment shortage in engineering. The last thing the sector needs is a skills shortage in the few who do apply.

Inexperienced graduates and the productivity gap

It is not uncommon to hear about industry professionals struggling with graduates who appear to lack the skills. I personally know an acquaintance who worked in the motorsport industry, developing engines for racing cars. His stories often involved new recruits fresh from university, who didn’t have a clue about many practical methods and protocols.

This meant that it took a while to gradually introduce students to the process, meaning up to six months of productivity was stalled by the inexperience.

If there is just one industry where you can’t fake it until you make it, it’s engineering. After all the well-put-together presentations, and all the talk of theory and analysis, inevitably an engineer will actually have to sit down and make something, using practical skills that work.

Another manifestation of this “fake it” attitude resides in graduates who think degrees from prestigious universities will automatically give them a head up when it comes to seeking employment. It won’t. And as we have been seeing, some of the top-university students are losing out to job applicants from less attractive (on paper) universities because of a lack of practical experience.

Practicality and ‘side projects’

But even if a university course itself is mostly theoretical, there’s still lots to do voluntarily within the university to strengthen a CV application.

One such thing is the Formula Student competition. It challenges students to build racing cars, and to them race them all over the world. And despite a perception that such voluntary acts are ‘side projects’ most employers will see them as integral parts to learning and development.

For example with Formula Student, what the job applicant can essentially say is that they have worked within a team of 40 or more students, with a modest project budget (or perhaps £100,000), to build an incredibly complicated, functioning vehicle.

Practical experience has been linked with better overall academic performances and, with all that learning and achievement to talk about, it’s hardly surprising that students with side projects also perform much better in interviews.

In short, the perfect engineering graduate isn’t necessarily prestigious university alumni. In fact, if anything, the opposite is true. Practical experience is king, above all, background or education.

Minorities in engineering 

What then, can we say for minorities in engineering? Both BME and women are underrepresented (with women being ‘severely’ underrepresented according to Engineering UK’s State of the Nation report). If there’s anything we can do culturally to boost their numbers — which is important given the recruitment shortfalls we are currently facing — it’s that we make sure engineering is open to everyone.

To do this we don’t even have to make changes that are terribly ambitious. We only have to speak to minorities about possibilities in the world of engineering. From personal experience, I’ve spoken to many women — engineers and non-engineers — who’ve said that engineering was never advertised to them as a possible career growing up. Engineering needs to be advertised as suitable and welcoming no matter what you look like.

It’s also true that underrepresented groups are having success in building networks to help open up the field. Networking is a great place for women and BME candidates to build up contacts, find out about opportunities, and to reframe the sector.

To summarise 

In short: the perfect engineer is one who has good practical skills. It does not matter if you attend the most expensive, most privileged, or a lesser known education centre.

In terms of physicality, how the perfect engineer “looks” shouldn’t matter. But unfortunately, it almost certainly still does in some job roles, and parts of the industry. But that is starting to change. With more inclusive outreach campaigns to younger women in education, more visible representation in the sector, and with networking for underrepresented minorities, hopefully the only thing future engineers will have to worry about is their practical experience.

If you are a job seeker or someone looking to boost their career, then WeAreTechWomen has thousands of free career-related articles. From interview tips, CV advice to training and working from home, you can find all our career advice articles here.

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

A hidden workforce that could help solve engineering industry’s skills gap

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

Article by Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners

Everyone who works in a STEM (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) role knows one simple fact - there are not enough of us.

Last year, the Royal Academy of Engineering estimated that UK engineering employers will need to recruit 182,000 engineers annually to keep up with demand and suggested that the UK would need to double its recruitment of graduates and apprentices to meet the shortfall.

To recruit this many people seems like an uphill task – but there is a group of talented, passionate and educated people who are willing and able to take on these roles and help plug the gap, but they are being over looked.

Thousands of STEM professionals across the UK who have had a career break find it incredibly difficult to get a job and are the victims of outdated recruitment methods that prevent them from getting an interview, let alone being offered the role.

Unconscious bias at the shortlisting stage, hiring pressures leading to assumptions made on limited information, and the common misconception that a ‘CV gap’ equates to a deterioration of skills are all reasons for not being given a chance. These hidden barriers mean talented professionals are being left behind, which is damaging the UK economy as well as seriously hindering efforts to improve diversity in STEM.

In May, the STEM Returners Index, our annual survey of a nationally representative group of over 750 STEM professionals who are on a career break and attempting to return to work or recently returned, revealed how challenging they were finding it.

Sixty-one percent of STEM professionals on a career break said they were finding the process of attempting to return to work either difficult or very difficult, compared to just 6% of respondents finding the process easy.

More than a third (36%) of returners said they felt that bias in the recruitment process was a barrier to them personally returning to their career and the commented that they regularly experience an incorrect perception that their CV gap has automatically led to a deterioration of skills, with hiring managers undervaluing their experience before they have a chance to prove themselves.

However, the reality, from our experience, is that returners pick up many new and transferable skills whilst on their career break, have generally kept themselves up to date with their industry throughout their break, and are able to quickly refresh their skills when back in a work environment. A gap on someone’s CV should not put them at the bottom of the pile.

Sadly, gender and ethnicity are also perceived as a barrier. In the survey, 27% of women said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their gender compared to 8% of men, while 30% of women said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to childcare responsibilities compared to 6% of men.

Sixty-seven percent of BME respondents said they are finding it difficult or very difficult to return to work, compared to 57% white British respondents.

This negatively contributes to an industry, which already has a concerning lack of diversity.  The current UK engineering workforce is 92% male and 94% white, which makes the barriers to returners even more counter intuitive.  The pool of STEM professionals attempting to return to industry is 51% female and 38% BME compared to 10% female and 6% BME working in industry.

Change is happening but slowly.

More and more UK companies are waking up to the fact that there is a hidden workforce at their fingertips. We are working with leading engineering and STEM firms to implement our Returners Programme, which results in high quality hires to fulfil existing and future contracts.

Across our STEM Returner programmes, 46% of professionals have been female, 34% from BME backgrounds and 96% of all returners have been retained by the host company after the placement.

Attracting and recruiting returners as a separate strategy works alongside standard recruitment as it removes conflicting priorities, reduces the opportunity for line managers searching for ‘their’ perception of the best candidate and create equal opportunity for returners to be considered. Internationally renowned STEM firms like BAE Systems, SSE and Leonardo, UK, have already embraced this way of working, which is a good step forward.

We are proud to be making a difference, but there is more work to do. With tough times lying ahead, we need to use every available drop of talent in the STEM sectors. It can be done – STEM Returners programmes are the proof of that. But whilst we celebrate those skills returned to the sector, it is imperative that the industry comes together to build on them. The UK needs more STEM organisations, industry leaders and hiring managers to take note and think more broadly about how they access this hidden talent pool, giving talented professionals a fair chance. Collectively we should not stop until we’ve created a level playing field for returners, put an end to unconscious bias in recruitment processes, and removed the hidden barriers returners face today.

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

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Girls in tech, STEM

Ensuring equality for the engineering sector through education

Girls in tech, STEM

Although the engineering sector is primarily male dominated, the sector actually has the potential to be an inspirational leader in equality.

If we were to define engineering, it would come down to the capability of shaping technology, which is a creative combination. Engineering is ultimately conceiving, designing and developing technology systems, their parts, and the related vertical applications.

An industry for everyone

Like many industries, the engineering sector has significantly evolved over the last few decades. Despite this, the constant core capability of an engineer is to design and build a technological framework. This characteristic should be one of the key driving forces to strive for equality. Why? Because technology is neutral, it is neither good nor bad, and is there to be tailored to assist the needs of us humans. Therefore, a profession based on technology, and on the capability of using it in the design and development stages, starts with a great advantage. Certainly, the neutrality of technology is a great responsibility for engineers, because along with their systems, they can also shape it to benefit humanity.

Essential enginnering education

At this point, education is key to largely improving the potential for equality within the sector. There is a lot of content in the education domain which can help reach this goal. The first is recognising technology as an ally of humanity, rather than a competitor. The pandemic has clearly shown all humans do not need to be afraid of technology – because it is neutral. An example of this is with Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based robots, which are a major outcome of the amazing progress of engineering over the last few decases. The relationship between humans and AI-based robots should be more cooperative and thus based on a peer-to-peer approach. By educating younger generations on this, society will be much more educated around the benefits of technology.

Education on the above items can make the difference in the way engineers approach the ideation, design and development of systems and their vertical domains. The effects would then result almost automatically in a broader, deeper and more lasting equality in the field. There has never been a more important time for us to encourage education in this field, especially for women, who may feel that it is not as achievable.

Marina RuggieriAbout the author

Marina Ruggieri is an IEEE fellow and Full Professor of Telecommunications Engineering at the University of Roma “Tor Vergata”. She is co-founder and Chair of the Steering Board of the interdisciplinary Center for Teleinfrastructures (CTIF) at the University of Roma “Tor Vergata”. The Center focuses on the use of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for vertical applications (health, energy, cultural heritage, economics, law) by integrating terrestrial, air and space communications, computing, positioning and sensing.

Discover more for International Women in Engineering Day:

Kerrine Bryan featuredInspirational Woman: Kerrine Bryan | Award-winning Engineer and Founder of Butterfly Books

Kerrine Bryan – an award winning black female engineer and founder of Butterfly Books.

Kerrine has gone on to smash many glass ceilings to become respected in her field.

She was shortlisted in Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35 for notable women in business and, in 2015, she won the Precious Award for outstanding woman in STEM. Kerrine is a volunteer mentor for the Institute of Engineering & Technology (IET) and is an avid STEM Ambassador. It was while she was undertaking talks at various schools across the country for children about engineering and what her job entails that she became inspired to set up her independent publishing house, Butterfly Books.

In response to this, Kerrine published a series of books (My Mummy Is A Scientist, My Mummy Is An Engineer and My Mummy Is A Plumber) as a means of communicating to children a positive message about all kinds of professions, especially STEM careers, that are suffering skill gaps and diversity issues. The fourth book in the series, My Mummy Is A Farmer, launched last month – August 2018.

Read Kerrine's full interview here

Engineering: a world that works for everyone

It seems obvious, but if we want to design a world that is meant to work for everyone, we need women in the room. But this is rarely the case.

Most offices are five degrees too cold for women, because the formula to determine their temperature was developed in the 1960s based on the metabolic resting rate of a 40-year-old, 70kg man; women’s metabolisms are slower.

Despite research showing that women are more likely to own an iPhone than men, the average smartphone is now 5.5 inches, allowing the average man to comfortably use his device one handed – but the average woman’s hand is not much bigger than the handset itself.

These are all examples from the excellent work of feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez – most famous for campaigning for better representation of women on British banknotes – who argues that the people taking the decisions that affect us all are mostly white, able-bodied men.

Read the full piece here

Mechanical Engineering featured

Breaking Down The Barriers: Why More Women Should Consider Engineering

Mechanical Engineering

Sorria Douglas knew she wanted to go into a technology or science-related job - she just wasn't sure what exactly until she took an online questionnaire which highlighted mechanical engineering as a possible career choice.

Sorria, now 26, didn't even know what mechanical engineering was at the time, but she thought it sounded interesting.

After watching videos and contacting universities for information on their related courses, she enrolled at the University of Derby and studied Mechanical Engineering (BEng Hons). She was one of only five females on her course - out of 100! Here she shares her journey and why she thinks more women should consider a role in her field.

How I Got Into The Industry

After discovering mechanical engineering from my research, I instantly knew that this was something I wanted to do. I loved how varied the university course sounded; I’d get to learn about things like thermodynamics, thermo fluids and machine design. I also liked the fact it was rooted in maths and science, which is something I’d always enjoyed since school.

My first lecture at The University of Derby was relatively daunting as I didn’t initially see any other females. This led me to wonder if I was the only one on the four-year course, but it turns out there were five of us in total. While this might have been a concern to other people, it was not a deterrent for me. We instantly gelled and are still friends to this day!

Throughout my degree, I particularly enjoyed the problem-solving element and how the course challenged me; it was exciting to work through a variety of situations and discover the most effective solutions. In my last year, I decided to specialise in mechanical design that focused on 3D and 2D modelling machinery allowing for a better visualisation of features and components of an overall build.

I was so happy when I received 76% in my dissertation (which involved designing and developing a novel wind turbine that could be used in a rural village) and was awarded a First Class Honours for my degree overall. It really cemented the fact I’d chosen the right career path.

Graduate Recruitment in the Engineering Market

Due to the competitive nature of the graduate market, I began looking for employment during my dissertation. I felt lucky to land myself a role at a local company, but a few months into it I knew it wasn’t for me; I gave it a bit more time then left after a year.

After browsing LinkedIn one afternoon, I saw a job advertisement for mechanical design engineer role featured on STEM Graduates. Once I knew the company hiring was L.A.C. Conveyors and Automation within the Nottinghamshire area, I was really excited as the company was developing quickly and worked on a range of projects. I also liked how there was an existing pool of engineers there that I was able to learn from.

I am the only female engineer at L.A.C Conveyors and Automation. It’s something that the company raised during my second interview as they wanted to check whether I’d feel comfortable within the environment, which I appreciated. Growing up with three older brothers, two older sisters and completing a male-dominated degree, I responded with something along the lines of  ‘I’m quite used to it and I wouldn’t be bothered’.

I’ve now been working at the company for three months and not one single person has made me feel less and everybody has been warm to me!

What I Do on a Day-to-day Basis

I have a lot to learn but everyday I’m learning something new, and I’m excited about my future here. During my day-to-day role, I am usually designing components for client projects, which I was put on straight away. I loved having the extra responsibility, though it was somewhat nerve-wracking. I also ensure the designs are sent  to the manufacturer and oversee the assembly of the projects being built.

Working for such an innovative company provides a wide range of learning and progression opportunities (and equal opportunities for men and women). One thing I find really exciting about L.A.C. Conveyors and Automation is the work it does in the AI and robotics industry, which is a hot topic at the moment. The diversity of the work also provides me with the opportunity to expand my engineering knowledge to include electronics and control engineering.

Why More Women Should Consider A Career in Engineering

It’s undoubtedly an exciting time to be involved in the engineering industry. Every skill learnt is valuable and there’s a constant demand for fresh minds to keep developing ideas. 

The issue with women in engineering (or lack of) seems to be a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Women need someone who they can look up to in the industry, but in many places that doesn’t exist. I think if we educated children more on STEM in primary and secondary school, you’d see an increase of females going into the industry. As mentioned, I didn’t even know what mechanical engineering was until I’d finished my GCSEs! At school, woodwork and bricklaying was offered, but from my experience it was always boys on those courses, which I understand can put girls off.

There’s so much you are able to do with engineering; it’s a field that’s interesting and ever-changing. If you’re into science, technology, maths, enjoy being challenged and want to make a real world impact, then engineering could be for you!

The industry itself is starting to make progress, but it’s slow. I recently spoke at a women in engineering event, for children aged 12+, and was asked a lot of questions about gender diversity in the industry and how I felt about it. It was so nice being able to respond, honestly, that I’ve never once felt out of place or treated differently by my male colleagues.

Sorria Douglas L.A.C. Conveyors and AutomationAbout the author

Sorria Douglas joined L.A.C. Conveyors and Automation in July 2019 as a Junior Mechanical Design Engineer in the Automation division. Over the last ten years, L.A.C. Conveyors and Automation has grown rapidly to become one of the country's leading and versatile conveyor companies.

If you are a job seeker or someone looking to boost their career, then WeAreTechWomen has thousands of free career-related articles. From interview tips, CV advice to training and working from home, you can find all our career advice articles here.

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

Are engineering and computer science really not for women?

Article by Dr Elaine Garcia, Head of Academics at InteractivePro. Elaine is also a lecturer with the London School of Business and Finance.

woman wearing a white lab coat working on an engineering project, International Women in Engineering DayGender equality is an issue in which much progress has been made. There is however still much work still to do.

Whilst laws concerning gender equality are allowing us to deal with overt inequality there has not been sufficient work undertaken to ensure that the more covert and latent forms of gender inequality have been removed.

One example of this form of gender inequality can be seen within education. When young people enter Higher Education, the choice of courses or subject areas made in some cases appear to suggest a gender bias that is not being eradicated.

From data available it is possible to see that there are some areas in which there are significant gender differences between the number of students undertaking programmes. These include within engineering and technology and computer science where 17%-19% of students were female between 2014/2015 and 2018/2019. This compares to the overall number of female students entering HE within this period totalling 56% of all enrolments.

Whilst these figures alone do not tell us the whole story of why there are differences between male and female student choices there are some concerning patterns within these trends which do not appear to have changed significantly within the last five years despite efforts to try to rectify this imbalance by a number of universities and other bodies. In this case we must therefore question why we are seeing gender imbalances within such subjects.

It is interesting to note that whilst imbalances have always existed, the number of female students studying computer science is reported to have fallen from around 30% in the 1970s to the figures we see today. The reasons for this drop are largely attributed to the ways in which personal computers and computer science were marketed within the 1980s and 1990s which was directed more towards male consumers rather than female consumers. This in turn led to less interest amongst woman for studies in computing science.

As computers have become more ubiquitous within our lives this marketing trend has been somewhat reversed and so it is hoped that this factor will start to play less of a role in prospective student decisions. With this in mind there must be other issues impacting on the decisions of subject areas both female and male students are making.

There has been a number of projects that have sought to try to encourage female students to consider engineering and computer science as possible future careers and therefore subjects for study. This has included seeking to define and develop courses within the areas as well as creating mentorship programmes and fostering an environment in which female students become more interested in these subjects at an earlier stage of their lives. These interventions have however, so far, had limited impact on the balance of student numbers within these areas.

Perhaps it is important therefore to consider why these imbalances may exist to begin with and therefore the experience that children have at school must be reviewed. It is reported that implicit bias and stereotypes are still pervasive within both primary and secondary school and are leading to children forming gendered attitudes and expectations about both school and the world in general. This therefore suggests that much of the work to ensure gender equality occurs needs to happen long before students are making decisions relating to the University subject choice.

Whilst there may not be an obvious answer to why and how the gender imbalances occur within university subject choice it is clear that there is still much work to do to ensure that gender equality is maintained within education. It is also apparent that this issue also needs to be addressed at a much earlier stage than when students are considering their subject choice. It may in fact be necessary to go back to the playground and consider the gender stereotypes and expectations that children may be forming long before they even consider their progression to Higher Education.

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

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Portrait of mature architect woman at a construction site. Building, development, teamwork and people concept featured

The Truth Behind Construction and Engineering’s Lack of Women

Portrait of mature architect woman at a construction site. Building, development, teamwork and people concept.Evidence of a gender imbalance in the UK construction industry should come as no surprise to anyone.

Even though the misconception of men dominating the STEM subjects can be disproved through a quick Google search (female students outperform male students), the same articles suggest there are continual obstructions to women participating in subsequent industries.

According to reports, sexism, a lack of role models, and anxiety over career progression prevent women from pursuing a career in construction and engineering. Of course, these are genuine and important factors that must be addressed. However, for Britain in particular, the foundations of the problem lie deep within the sector. After all, other countries like Spain have a relatively equal number of men and women working within this lucrative industry.

Is the UK construction and engineering sector excluding women as a viable workforce, or are people excluding the industry from their prospects as a viable career?

Learning to leave

You may often hear the phrases of depreciation when discussing the lack of females in the construction and engineering sector – “we treat it as a man’s job” or “girls are raised to believe they can’t”.

However, while this may have been the case well over a decade ago, there is no evidence of any gender biases at an education level. Work continues to deconstruct these perceptions, but the suggestion that an entire sector is gender-exclusive is rejected in the classroom.

Evidence suggests that female students recognise engineering as a viable career for them, and see little difference in whether it is suited more for one gender.

Research by EngineeringUK highlighted this perception from 2015 to 2019:

The graphs indicate that girls do not agree with the idea that engineering is just for boys. Across the two charts, data shows an increasing awareness of gender equality. 94% of girls at school leaving age (16–19) in 2019 said they agreed that engineering is suitable for boys and girls. 81% of boys at school leaving age in 2019 agreed too.

The evidence is conclusive, recording that there is no belief system in girls that engineering and construction is not a viable career option. Certainly, the abilities of girls in the educational setting do not pose any barriers to the sector. Therefore, the perception of construction as an appealing career may be the most significant factor in preventing people from entering the industry.

Groups of 11-14-year-old girls and 16-19-year-old girls show a declining aspiration for engineering as a potential career. Clearly, even more must be done to prove that this is a desirable career for aspirational women. The lack of female role models in the construction sector may also contribute to these disappointing results.

However, when compared with boys at similar ages, it’s important to note that they too showed a similar declining interest in the last four years.

Gender stereotypes can certainly contribute to the construction industry as a viable career option, but clearly, girls believe that pursuing engineering as a career is something that they are capable of doing if they desired. EngineeringUK concluded that: “Barriers to pursuing STEM education and engineering careers — those relating to a lack of knowledge of engineering, for example — may be common to both genders and point to the importance of stepping up engagement with all young people.”

Construction and engineering in the UK, it appears, is failing to show that it is a desirable career option to either gender. The consequence of this is more than having a distinct lack of female engineers, the problems within the sector are only emphasised by the continued gender stereotypes of masculine roles.

If not just for women, how is the construction and engineering sector failing to attract everyone?

Why is construction unappealing?

Data suggests that, when compared to Europe, the UK ranks lowest on the representation of women in the construction and engineering sector.

The perception of a prestigious career is the reason, according to civil engineer Jessica Green. She believes that similar occupations, such as architecture, are appreciated more than her misunderstood career. She admits that she “turned [her] nose up at engineering”, after believing the job would create a lifetime of standing “dressed in overalls” and “working in tunnels”.

Green concludes that this is the image that was presented to her in the UK. Even though the career requires years of academia and a large amount of training, she feels that she is denied a prestige that other careers are awarded. People do not want to consider a career without a sense of achievement.

This is the opposite of Spain, where the title of engineer is regarded with the same occupational prestige as that of a doctor or lawyer. It requires six years of work to achieve this title. For this reason, Green believes Spain achieves its impressive equality in her field of work.

Of course, the term “engineer” is broader in the UK. It can represent many people throughout the construction sector from many different levels. This creates an ambiguity into what the role actual is, and what a person may be qualified to do. This unknown contributes to the disappointing representation of talented construction engineers compared to other careers held in high regard, such as doctors or lawyers. The apprehension often creates the perception of overalls and yellow hard hats, though the construction sector relies on many engineers working in office environments or in a digital field.

Building the best solution

The construction and engineering sector must innovate its approach to recruiting in the UK. This appeal must be refreshed for men and women. The evidence shows that female students are approaching the sector with an open mind and with confidence. But they are being let down by an industry that asks people to prove themselves worthy of a promising career, when it is the construction sector that needs to work to prove itself to their prospective employees.

Diane Boon, Director of Commercial Operations at structural steelwork company Cleveland Bridge, states: “To be a woman in engineering — as with everything in life — you need to work hard. But so do the men. Being a woman has neither helped nor hindered my career in this incredible field. What engineering needs to do smarter is raise its profile, make itself more appealing to future generations — it needs to reposition itself.”

The future of UK construction and engineering lies in the hands of the sector’s female leaders. By recognising engineers in this country with the same prestige that other European countries do, we can achieve an appealing and competitive workforce and achieve better gender representation within the industry.

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.  

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