International women in engineering day
We spoke to Katerina, one of our engineers, about her experiences starting her career in engineering and advice she would give those considering engineering as a career.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
It was not until university applications that I realised that I wanted to be a civil and structural engineer. Growing up, I had my heart set on studying mathematics at university.; however, the thought of doing this as a career did not feel right. I had a creative side that I wanted to use, but I also wanted to contribute to society and be part of an ever-changing environment. As I was starting my A-Levels my Design and Technology teacher suggested engineering to me as I was good at using maths and physics for the problem solving required in the project work. At first, I was sceptical as I was not sure what engineering involved; I was also certain that engineering was for men, not women. I did not think that it was possible for me to be an engineer, especially as I did not directly know any female engineers. My parents encouraged me to pursue this as a degree choice and to them, this was a good path to take because, whilst I was growing up, I was always fascinated by bridges and buildings. I realised that this was how I could combine my love for maths, design, and technology and make a difference to peoples’ lives. As I progress within my career, my inspiration stems from wanting to make a difference in the industry and to help remove the stigma surrounding women within the industry.
What challenges have you overcome as a woman in the industry?
Throughout my education and career, I have learned that good problem-solving skills are necessary for an engineering career. Problem-solving skills, alongside innovation and curiosity, support the overall creation of solutions. Without these skills, further challenges and barriers may arise.
Whilst working at the company, over the past three years, I am fortunate to be able to say that I have been offered the same opportunities as male colleagues, such as roles within projects, business development and training programmes. However, it goes without saying that there are some challenges for a woman pursuing a career in a male-dominated field. It can be intimidating to be in a minority-group, both as a woman and as a person of colour. I find this can lead to a lack of self-confidence and a feeling that you need to work harder to prove that you are able to cut it and prove your professional worth.
There have been a few occasions where I have been on site and site teams have assumed that I am not the engineer working on the project. One comment included, whilst addressing me, “has the engineer arrived?”. Even though stigmas like this stem from the implicit bias within the industry, which can be challenging and intimidating, I have found that this is a mental barrier which I, and many women, are learning to overcome.
Why should more women be in engineering?
Engineering involves everyone and influences all our lives and so, there is a great importance that the industry needs greater diversity to better represent society. Yet, only 12% of all engineers in the UK are women, according to the Engineering UK report 2018. The Women’s Engineering Society state
“We have a skills shortage in engineering which is predicted to get worse over the next ten years. We will not be able to fill these jobs if we recruit from only half of the population.”
If this area of study was not perceived as a male-dominated field, I think young girls would be more enthusiastic to test their abilities in engineering. Being a STEM and Arkwright ambassador is one way that I have helped encourage younger women to pursue a career in engineering, by exposing them to this industry at an early age. Many assume engineering is not for them, but I want to help inform and inspire the younger generation on the benefits of the career. Reading about the women who have helped shaped our surrounding environment, is inspirational, however, I am fully aware that there is only a small number of women within the industry. I have attended a few Women in Property (WIP) events to meet other women in the industry, which has been a great way to improve my self-confidence and has led me to believe it crucial, that as I progress with my career, to be one of those women who will encourage others, particularly women, in this industry.
Is the construction industry doing enough to encourage women into engineering?
The UK has the lowest number of female engineers compared to other countries in Europe, and I believe that the construction industry as a whole within the UK, need to do more to encourage women into engineering; although, this has improved over the past few years. The industry needs to improve on the quality and number of resources and programmes for outreach and STEM activities as this is a great way to encourage girls at an early age. However, this generally only covers encouraging women into engineering at the start of their careers, rather than encouraging women back into the industry after taking leave. I believe that in order to resolve the problem of diversity, everyone should be involved in addressing this and that the industry should do more to encourage everyone to do so, rather than allowing it to appear that it is just the responsibility of women and outreach activities. Training courses/seminars on how to make engineering appealing to women, such as flexible working hours, child care, equal maternity/paternity leave, support, the ability to continue career development whilst looking after children etc, and implicit bias should be developed to improve upon everyone’s awareness of diversity; as well as ways that they can help improve this within their work place.
What advice would you say to a student considering a career in engineering?
Engineering is an extremely rewarding career. You can help shape your environment and see how your work benefits society and those living in it. You are also able to work with a diverse range of people and teams and work on a variety of project. Not only that, engineering is no longer what people traditionally consider it to be. These days engineering has evolved to include digital transformation, computer programming, environmental protection, renewable science, etc, and is moving towards Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.
Advice I can give to a student is start looking at internships/work-experience as early as you can, because real-world experience is so important in determining where your skillsets are and what you want to do. Build professional relationships with mentors that can help you develop and do not be afraid to ask questions. Keep in mind that if you have a passion for the technical aspects of the industry, the small barrier of being a minority or thinking this is not possible should not stop you.