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.


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

 


Advice and tips on attracting future engineers

Doug Anderson, Sales and Marketing Manager of Guttridge, discusses the importance of attracting future female engineers and offers a few top tips along the way.

As a company, it’s important to not only chase the next customer, but also chase the next employee. The engineering sector should constantly attract new talent and actively encourage more females into what has traditionally been a male-dominated environment. It’s vital that future engineers should be motivated and passionate at the earliest stage in their professional development.

Why work in engineering?

Image via Shutterstock
Image via Shutterstock

The engineering sector is regarded as a cornerstone of the UK’s economic progression. In the future, engineers will be charged with producing cutting-edge technology and building structures that will help the UK tackle any renewable energy issues. To achieve this, there needs to be as many people entering the industry as possible. Organisations must remove any existing preconceptions and make engineering an attractive career path for all young people, by taking actions to promote and encourage working in the industry. How do we do this? Well here are four tactics to help secure the future engineering talent.

Generate interest early

Firstly, it’s vital to ensure that children and students of all ages, male and female, are informed about engineering. There are many different disciplines within the sector, offering different opportunities. Young students who are passionate about engineering and keen to enter the industry should have the opportunity to make informed educational decisions in order to realise their ambition.

The education sector and schools are improving increasing awareness in the sector, by using dynamic teaching methods to help bring science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) to life. Attracting girls to the industry is a huge priority as they are still scarce in the engineering profession despite the career opportunities it offers.

As well as emphasising the importance of STEM to students, male and female, it is just as important that teachers and parents are aware of the importance and benefits that working in engineering can bring.

Earning and learning

In the past, engineering companies tend to lack an on-campus presence at schools, colleges and universities which hasn’t helped graduate intake into the sector. However, in recent years the visibility in terms of career potential are now in front of young talent.

The cost of attending university deters many young people, so it’s crucial to make them aware of the existence of other routes to a successful and rewarding career. Apprenticeships and internships offer an opportunity to learn whilst earning a wage, and can become a huge step to further education later in life. In-house training is offered alongside fully funded qualifications to help employees enhance their formal education. Organisations need to provide these development opportunities to help attract engineers from a wider range of social backgrounds. Learning on the job can produce more well-rounded employees – as it requires hard work and dedication.

Removing industry preconceptions

In the past engineering has been perceived as a male-oriented industry, and the lack of female engineers in the UK suggests that very little has changed. Given the diversity roles within the sector, there is absolutely no justification for this.

Perhaps as an industry we need to effectively relay the message that a career in engineering offers a wealth of opportunities that actually take place in very modern and high-tech environments, as opposed to grubby ones.

Wealth of opportunity

The scale of opportunity that engineering can provide for entry level students is superb. Engineering is an exciting career field to be involved in, and new opportunities are always available for qualified engineers. It is a flourishing and fast growing sector, not to mention engineering graduates earn some of the best salaries in the country.

Many engineering businesses have offices overseas, so there are also opportunities for graduates to travel abroad, especially to the MENA area.

When it comes to interviews and the selection process, recruitment of new staff in the engineering sector needs to be based on talent alone, rather than gender or any other arbitrary factor. The more that a company builds its female workforce, the more women will be attracted to fill positions in the industry, and the industry will thrive.

It is therefore up to those currently involved in the engineering sector, to spread the word and improve the appreciation of a career which knows no bounds, and continue to do what we can for our future engineers.

At Guttridge we encourage the STEM subjects by working with The Imagineering Foundation to introduce school children to the fascinating world of engineering and technology. We are seeing extremely encouraging results with our local school and are working hard to ensure the children are inspired to consider a career in engineering.