Encouraging more girls to pursue engineering careers is such a hot topic now. As a woman engineer I am really interested in promoting gender balance in the profession. I am doing my bit as a STEM ambassador, reading reports published by various institutions to understand the problem and trying to change both parents and children’s perception of what an engineer does.
However, the focus must not be solely on the generations to come, but also on the ones which are here now; starting their careers, progressing to senior roles or running the business.
I attended an Atkins Women’s Professional Network event a few months ago, which gathered women engineers from all levels within the company. It was a coaching webinar to explore identifying skills and passions, building relationships and personal branding. The discussions around the topic of promotion were very interesting, particularly the perspectives that each generation held.
More senior women had the perception that it had been very difficult for them to reach their current position and explained that sometimes they had felt left out of the ‘core group’ of their part of the business. I could see strong characters, women used to having to prove to everybody that they were where they were because they had earned it, were experts in their field and knew what they were doing.
In the intermediate generations most participants were more comfortable in their working environment, a lot of them looking for resources to understand how to do the next big step in their careers, where and how to seek advocates, how to expand their networks and combine all that with their personal life. Most of them were keen on asking male colleagues for support to develop their careers, and did not feel hindered at all for being a woman. However, the topic of staying in touch while on maternity leave and returning back to work came up. It seemed to me that they felt as if they put their careers on hold to dedicate that time to their families, and upon their return catching up while everybody else had kept going was quite challenging.
Then there were the younger generations, within which I count myself, listening to it all, absorbing information and trying to figure out how to make best use of the experience of others. It was an eye-opening discussion, because until then I had never thought of how hard it might be to balance professional life and motherhood, neither realized the importance of having advocates and strong networks to support career progress.
Great initiatives such as institutional and corporate professional networks, flexible working patterns and investing more in women’s development are helping empower women to achieve their full potential as engineers, but what is also important is to recognise the progress made so far and the importance of sharing experiences and passing knowledge on to the next generation so they have the tools to progress even further.
Today is the day to do it. Happy Women in Engineering day, for all women who are engineers and those who will be.