Business Woman in tech. Stronger together, Happy women or girls standing together , girls, power, strong, strength, feminism Feminine, woman empowerment, vector illustration.

How to ensure women thrive in typically male-dominated industries

Business Woman in tech. Stronger together, Happy women or girls standing together , girls, power, strong, strength, feminism Feminine, woman empowerment, vector illustration.Article by Karni Wolf, Engineering Manager, Snyk 

Statistics show that just 22% of software engineers are women, and as one of them, I’ve experienced my job from a slightly different perspective from my male counterparts.

It’s not always easy being different from the majority of your colleagues, which women in tech, and particularly in the developer community, often are. So, we need to ask ourselves why the number of women entering the industry is so low and what can be done to change this?

The onus is on the organisation

When it comes to hiring, businesses need to understand they’re not just doing women a favour. They should actively want to employ more females for the different perspectives and skill sets that they can bring to a team.

Research has shown that almost twice as many women suffer from imposter syndrome as men – meaning role models and examples will be key to women aspiring to enter any male-dominated professions. Once a business chooses to hire with the intention of creating a prosperous environment for everyone, no matter their background, then this cycle will start to break.

Building a truly inclusive culture that celebrates differences and encourages individuals to make mistakes is so important. Although the responsibility does largely lie at the feet of the employer, it’s everyone’s role to actively foster an aspirational culture that welcomes women as well as anyone who may not fit the traditional mould. After all, creating a diverse workforce will help boost productivity and create a company that people genuinely want to be a part of and feel welcomed into.

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To subvert the industry norms and create a remedy for a lack of diversity, organisations will of course need to review their hiring practices. However, the journey doesn’t simply end there. The onus then needs to move onto the battle to retain diverse talent. The best way of retaining any talent – regardless of background – is through creating a culture where belonging and job satisfaction are a priority. How can a business do this? Transparency! Troublingly, despite asking for raises as often as men, women are less likely to get them. Transparency around compensation updates and promotion cycles, which actually help individuals understand the options available to them, will be key in convincing female employees that this is a company that really has their best interests at heart.

Furthermore, despite being more likely to receive top performance ratings, women are less likely to be thought of as having “high potential”. As such, women have traditionally been seen  less as “go-getters” in their careers – a rhetoric that is still holding many women back, even today. Of course, trailblazing women across the world are overcoming prehistoric barriers everyday, but many will still need support, confidence, and inspiration. This is why we need to be focussing on educating young women on the roles available to them. They need to believe that with hard work, anything is possible.

My advice to women and business leaders

My advice to women looking to get started in an industry that’s traditionally male-orientated? Always be open to new experiences within your professional career. Even if you’re not sure that the role you’re looking to enter is where you want to be long-term, it’s likely a great starting point for you to leap in a new direction. If it’s proving challenging to land your first job – don’t give up! Equally, if your first position in the industry isn’t what you’d hoped – keep with it. You can always find a better alternative with a more suitable culture, technical challenge, pay grade, or whatever it is that you’d like to improve.

To any women who may be reading, I hope that this will at least have opened your mind to the possibility of entering an industry where you may not feel totally comfortable or welcomed from the get-go. To any managers or business leaders reading I ask that you stop transferring responsibility to women, take initiative yourselves, and create opportunities for your employees no matter their background.

Karni WolfAbout the author

Karni is an Engineering Manager at Snyk and has been with the company since 2018. She previously worked as a Software Engineer at Dynamic Yield after graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science in 2016. Based in Tel-Aviv, Karni values being able to work in diverse teams and understands the importance of creating a work environment not only inclusive of women, but inclusive for all. She’s been active in local communities since 2013, volunteered at she codes; a community of female software developers and is currently managing a community of female engineering and R&D managers at Baot. In 2021, she co-founded a new community for engineering managers, of all backgrounds and levels of experience, EMIL.


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Women in engineering, Publicis Sapient event

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We hope you’ll join us for a live discussion that looks at female leadership at Publicis Sapient, featuring female leads, a live Q&A, and networking happy hour.


International Women in Engineering Day: Girls Can Too

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

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

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

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

Creating a more equal world

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start from the bottom

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

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

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

Be supportive and flexible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Meet Rocio Roldan Aguayo, Process Engineer, Veolia

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

Rocio Roldan Aguayo

Why/what made you choose a career in engineering?

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

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

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

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

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

What projects are you working on at the moment?

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

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

Rocio Roldan Aguayo

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

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

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

What has been your career progression?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT VEOLIA

Inspirational Woman: Rashi Khurana | Vice President of Engineering, Shutterstock

Rashi Khurana 1Rashi Khurana is Vice President of Engineering at Shutterstock where she oversees the front end E-commerce, Platform and Mobile engineering teams.

Since joining Shutterstock in 2016, Rashi helped lead three teams through a technology transformation, all the while managing day-to-day operations of delivering a quality product to customers. Rashi is passionate about managing teams of engineers to deliver above expectations everyday and building resiliency into all initiatives.

Rashi earned a master’s degree in Information Technology and Management at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Upon graduation, she worked at Orbitz in Chicago for seven years—before moving to New York City.

Hailing from India, Rashi moved to the United States in 2007 to pursue a master’s degree in Information Technology and Management at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Upon graduation, she worked at Orbitz in Chicago for seven years—before moving to New York City.

Rashi has also spoken on “Business as Usual While Revamping a Decade of Code” and recently took part on a tech women’s leadership panel.  Her speaking engagements include 2018 Wonder Women Tech, 2018 SXSW, and 2017 DeveloperWeek.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am Vice President of Engineering at Shutterstock, where I oversee the front-end E-commerce, Platform and Mobile engineering teams. Since joining Shutterstock in 2016, I have helped lead three teams through a technology transformation, all the while managing day-to-day operations of delivering a quality product to customers. I am passionate about managing teams of engineers to deliver above expectations every day and building resiliency into all initiatives.

I moved to the United States from India in 2007 to pursue a master’s degree in Information Technology and Management at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Upon graduation, I worked at Orbitz in Chicago for seven years—before moving to New York City.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

My career of choice when I was 12 years old was teaching. I thought about going into politics — I wanted to be an officer at the Indian Administrative Services at one point of my life, but nothing would have come close to the growing and learning that has come my way with the choices I have made.

The Indian education system is largely a rat race to get into the top colleges in India for undergrad, such as the Indian Institute of Technology. I decided that path wasn’t for me, which meant dropping out of my ongoing physics and mathematics preparation courses to get into those colleges. I knew I had to be comfortable with this decision so it would not lead to future regret. And as destiny has it, it was one of the best decisions I ever made, to go to undergrad in a part of the country that did not speak my language.

This was my first experience of being out of my comfort zone. Having schooled at an all-girls school, here was my first exposure to the tech field that was heavily male dominated. In my class of 60-plus students, there were only 6-8 women. I learned operating systems, database designs, algorithms, C, C++, Java and more.

My parents always pushed me to consider life outside of my comfort zone. I had already done three internships at tech companies in different parts of India during my summer breaks. That expanded my horizons into Perl, Tcl/Tk, XMLs and SOAP and Visual Basic. I even played with Amida handheld devices and worked with socket programming for them when tablets were not a big thing.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Because the industry’s so heavily male-dominated, I think the biggest challenge is that women have to put in that extra effort, and the extra onus in proving ourselves; that we deserve it and yes, that we are fit for it or can do it. We put great pressure on ourselves.

One big challenge is the superfluous attitude about women in tech and women in general. I’ve noticed that a woman’s body language is judged very quickly. ‘Does she have confidence, or does she show confidence at the time she’s in a meeting?’ Studies have also shown that women have to use a certain way of communication. For example, when you want to get something and you’re in a negotiation, you may not be able to say, ‘I want this.’ You need to use the word ‘we’ more than ‘I’ to negotiate some of those conversations. If the world was a little more balanced, that extra onus and the self-inflicted demand of always being on top of your game and carrying the burden to prove something would fade away.

Another challenge is we don’t raise our hands. We don’t ask. When I was an engineer fresh out of college, two years into my job and I was coding all day, I received a brief email from my manager at that moment. That email said, ‘Rashi will be going to London with the Head of Product and Head of SEO.’ I jumped out of my chair and I ran to his office. Because I thought it was a mistake, I said, ‘I got this email. I think it’s a mistake.’ My manager said ‘Well, you don’t want to go?’ I replied, ‘No it’s not that I don’t want to go. But you have tech leads on your team. You have senior engineers on the team. Shouldn’t they be going first, before I get that opportunity?’ And he said, ‘End of discussion. You’re going.’

This was a long time ago. But it was a turning point for me, for my career, for my life. I realised he had confidence in me that I didn’t have in myself. I didn’t know what confidence meant until that moment, because I’d never thought about it. And that was a turning point. So, I think the first, most important reason for women not being successful is that we are conditioned to put ourselves second. So, when an opportunity even comes to us to lead, we sometimes shy away.

To be successful in STEM, we need to understand that success is not built alone. You could put in your hard work. You could believe in yourself and have the confidence in yourself, but until you have the right advocates who believe in you, it’s still hard to be successful. As you grow further in your career and you really want to be successful, sponsorship comes into the picture more.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I am most proud of the network of people I have built. One of my managers once told me, “No matter what code you write, it will be out of the window in less than five years. What stays with you is the network you build, the people you meet.” This has definitely struck a chord with me. When I think about my career and consider new opportunities, I think first about the people I am working with.

The products we build are heavily influenced by the people in charge and the camaraderie we create. People matter the most in any industry and if we can embrace the goodness of the people, we can deliver anything we wish for. I am very proud of and connected to the teams I manage, and that enables me to do a better job at work, too.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

We need to embrace the fact that we’re women. Even to be at the table, we have to be ourselves. So, my biggest factor for achieving success is being myself. If you are trying to fake it, or if you’re trying to mimic somebody else, you can only do it for a short period of time. Don’t try to be the man. We bring different things to technology, our way of thinking, our problem solving is different. Instead of trying to be a man, we must discover our own way of being heard. When a man wants to get attention, he may pound his fist on the table and get attention. And we may not be cool with pounding our fist. That’s okay. We can use our voice to be assertive and still get attention. There may be one or two meetings where you do not get your eye contact, or your voice is not heard the way you would have wanted. But then, be yourself and be persistent about it and keep speaking up. Keep saying what you want to say, because if you don’t say it, how will anybody hear it? And once they hear it, they will know you have information to offer. You have something to say which nobody else thought about.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I have a very different take on mentoring. I don’t think you can have one mentor who can fill all the gaps – you have different people with expertise in different areas, so you need to have a network of mentors rather than just one. I always make myself available for anyone that wants a chat and I like to make them feel comfortable that they can pull me aside. At Shutterstock, we have a Women in Tech group where we can talk about our industry and work out how we can inspire each other, have each other’s backs and recognise our skills. We also bring in inspirational women to talk about their story and give advice e.g. Deirdre Bigley, Chief Marketing Officer at Bloomberg.

For me, I was very lucky that I had that support system at home – I didn’t have to look outside for mentors when I was growing up. My mother has a science background and my father has a mathematics background, which inspired me to follow in their footsteps. My parents did a lot of shaping of my mind when I was young and when I needed that support.

Similar to mentoring, I was sponsored by my previous boss. That’s where I first understood what it meant. He would not shy away being in a room with people of different levels saying that, ‘Hey, I believe in her. And I’m going to let her lead it her way.’ Just being able hear that said aloud vocally, it does wonders to you as somebody is putting their trust in you and you don’t want to violate that.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

I once attended a session where my former CTO was speaking to 400 women in tech. The title of that forum was “Women in Tech: The male perspective.” He described this scenario where he asked a woman he managed to lead a part of his organisation and she politely refused, saying she didn’t think she was ready. He told her that if she wasn’t ready, he wouldn’t risk his organisation under her leadership. We need to learn to have confidence that we’re ready and trust that when someone calls upon us to lead, we’re capable of doing it.

We are moving forward, but we hit some setbacks and obstacles along the way. I believe people want to be fair, but to favour individualism and moralism over tribalism will require a shift in mindset. The good news is that people are talking about it. The difficulties arise when the discussion sometimes is not rooted in the right ideals.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

I’d make sure I don’t hold myself hostage to my thoughts of not being able to do something. If you have a good support, there are many touchpoints that you have with people, especially the one-on-ones you have with your manager or your skip-levels and colleagues. First, I’d make sure the direction I want my career to go in is clear. Know that ‘This is my career and I’m driving it. Nobody else is going to drive my career for me.’

I’d then ask myself, ‘What do I want out of my career?’ If I want something out of it, I must make sure that other people are aware of it. And then we work together towards it.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I want to make sure that we are creating more diversity but prevent D&I initiatives turning into box-ticking exercises. Being a woman engineer in NYC looking for a job isn’t too difficult, because many employers are actively looking for you. But does that mean a better candidate loses out? My thought is – it’s the end goal that’s important. We need more women and diversity (I’m just taking women as an example here) so that the products we build are catered to everyone and there is equal room for expression and entitlement. As a society we have stereotypes that have existed for so long, it’s dis-balanced. We are in a hard place where we are desperately trying to fix it, so the future generation does not have to deal with this gap.

One way of fixing this is to correct our education system as I think it is too influenced by the norms of our society. When we hand a barbie doll to a two-year-old girl and a superhero to a two-year-old boy, we are setting the tone for what to expect – there are different places for them in society. That continues in school with the courses that are offered and who studies what. We need to talk to girls about science, the universe, technology, and let them build things with Legos at an early age to pique their interest in science. No more doll houses for them, they need to be playing with transformers!


encouraging girls in to tech, STEM featured

Inspiring women for a career in engineering

encouraging girls in to tech, STEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This shows women should be engineers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elena Rodriguez-FalconAbout the author

Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon FIET, PFHEA, FCMI

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

of women feel they've experienced bias in recruitment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women In Engineering

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

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

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

The changing of mindsets throughout the industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diversifying the recruitment pool in which you search

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

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

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

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

Breaking down the barriers and allowing women to become pioneers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mentoring women throughout the industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

What can Ada Lovelace’s flying horse tell us about some very modern problems with educating engineers?

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

Beverley Gibbs reflects on what Ada Lovelace’s flying horse can tell us about some very modern problems with educating engineers. 

In 1827 when she was 12 years old, Ada Lovelace imagined a steam-powered flying horse.  Ada’s ideas for the horse terrified her mother, who feared Ada was taking on characteristics of her father….the original ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ lothario, Lord Byron. Byron is still regarded as one of the great English poets, and Lady Byron’s reaction to Ada’s horse-themed creativity was to buckle down on directing Ada into a purposeful study of mathematics and science to avoid the chaos associated with her creative father. The rest, as they say, is history, and on the second Tuesday of every October we celebrate Ada Lovelace Day, recognising her contribution to computer science.

As an engineer, I find Ada’s flying horse captivating and inspiring. At their best, engineers rely on imagination, empathy, creativity, vision and readiness for change – capabilities that come from an understanding of what it is to be human rather than an overly narrow devotion to maths and science. Why then, do we spend so little time in the engineering curriculum developing these capabilities, and why do we select them out during our admissions processes? AT NMITE, we’re determined to do things differently.

At NMITE, we recognise that people who do not have Maths and Science A-levels can still have the vision, curiosity, determination and creativity to be fantastic engineers – and so we welcome them. Our very human admissions process takes account of the applicant’s journey and potential. Once they join us, we explicitly teach and support maths and science – and communication and interpersonal skills – inside the programme, closely aligned to their application in engineering work.

We are also inspired by the humanities world, and have built that into our programme because the subjective and objective need not be in competition. The professional accreditation of engineering education requires that engineers can work with ambiguity, respond to stakeholders and manage risk – these skills cannot come from numbers and natural laws alone.

At NMITE, we have infused the curriculum with approaches from history, art, philosophy and rhetoric as well as the more usual social sciences. In the first couple of weeks in our programme, learners study the idea of certainty – yes, in metrology, but also in speech. There are of course plenty of examples of great teaching at the humanities and science interface, but in NMITE we have won the institutional argument on transdisciplinary approaches and it’s what we are founded on. That’s not just because different disciplines are interesting and important, but because we know they unlock routes to being a better engineer.

As engineers, we are perhaps most characterised by a yearning to put ideas to use: in many ways, this is the essence of what engineering is. Too often, educators are keen to share their discipline’s insights, but stop short of showing students how to effectively integrate those perspectives into their core discipline or vocation.

NMITE was founded in response to an overly narrow admissions criteria to engineering degree courses. We aim to meet the needs of employers reporting long-term shortages in a sector critical to economic growth and human wellbeing.

We have a recruitment process that treats applicants as rounded people, and we maintain that human awareness throughout our programme…humans as stakeholders, employers, and collaborators. Humans at individual, community and global scales. Rather that seeing safety in logic and numbers as Lady Byron did, we see safety in properly preparing our graduates for the world they will enter an the work they will do.

Whilst Ada Lovelace is rightly recognised and respected for her contributions to computer science, let’s be inspired by her navigation of different disciplines and reflect on the evidence that she had all the hallmarks of a thoroughly excellent modern engineer.

Professor Beverley Gibbs is Chief Academic Officer at NMITE, a new provider of higher education. Find out more at www.nmite.ac.uk.