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International Women in Engineering Day: How to inspire more women to take up engineering

On Wednesday I was interviewed by an undergraduate at the University of Newcastle as part of her dissertation on Women in Engineering. She asked me a vast array of questions from ‘have you ever felt that you are treated differently as a woman in a male dominated industry?’ to ‘why do you think that more females are not pursuing a career in Engineering?’

 

Answering the first question was easy – no, I’ve never been treated unfairly within the industry because of my gender. In all honesty, you probably get more sexism in a pub on a Friday night.

But the second question got me thinking. Why aren’t there more females wanting to be an Engineer? Only 9% of Civil Engineering graduates are women. In fact, it was even lower on my course – on the final year of my MEng degree, there were 2 females and 50 males. That’s less than 5% (you’ve got to love numbers to be an Engineer).

Maybe girls are worried about working in a male dominated industry – unfortunately articles written by female Engineers in the media often focus on the negatives rather than the positives. My experiences have only been positive. Yes, I am often the only female working on a project, in a meeting or on site and yes, I have learnt to be more assertive and stand my ground. However, most of the time, I barely notice that I am in the minority. Maybe I am just lucky, but most of my female Engineering counterparts (from WSP and other consultancies) seem to be having a similar experience.

Alternatively, it’s the perception of Engineering. And I don’t just mean the old ‘Engineering is for boys’ malarkey. In general, people outside the industry don’t seem to have a clue how vital Engineers are to society. Or they think that you fix engines, wear boiler suits or resemble a man. Not true – I like make-up, dream of owning Christian Louboutin shoes and spend most of my time in a nice warm office.

Girls want to be doctors or nurses or police women instead – they want to save the world. Well, that’s basically what I do every day. Ok, maybe a slight over-exaggeration, but my job does enable me to make a difference to people’s lives.

And nothing in the world beats the feeling or seeing something YOU have designed being built and people benefitting from it.

Finally, maybe girls don’t go into Engineering because Engineering is never presented to them as a career choice. If the parents don’t know what it is, then how can we expect their children to understand? This needs to change.

I think that if I love my job as much as I do then why wouldn’t other women?

As soon as I started work, I registered as a STEM ambassador through STEMNET and regularly go out and meet young women to encourage them to learn about what an Engineer is and does so that they can decide from themselves if it’s the career for them. I also encourage my fellow co-professionals to do the same by being heavily involved in Launchpad – WSP’s hub for supporting engagement with students.

According to statistics, 76% of girls get interested in engineering is they are shown what Engineers do.

Just think that if each female Engineer convinced two girls into a career in Engineering, we would soon be rivalling the men numbers wise. That shouldn’t be too hard. After all, who wouldn’t want to be an Engineer?

Sophie Webber is an engineer in the water team at WSP

Interested in a career in engineering? Join our team here.