Girls: Why you can go far in engineering

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Girls in the science lab

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Today is Women in Engineering Day – and we want to celebrate our female engineers and convince more girls that an engineering career can be exciting, challenging and rewarding regardless of your gender.

We talked to Paula Tinkler, commercial director at manufacturing firm Chemoxy, who explains why being a woman is no bar to success – and can even be an advantage.

Are women welcome in engineering?

Paula from ChemoxyYes, although they aren’t very common yet. The Women’s Engineering Society says that only 9% of the UK’s engineering workforce is female. However, it’s predicted that, of 2.56 million manufacturing jobs that are expected to open up before 2022, half will be filled by women – making this the perfect time to get involved.

Make sure you don’t let the fact that most engineering jobs are currently held by men put you off, because women are warmly welcomed.

Although the industry was originally built with a male workforce in mind, steps have since been taken to accommodate the needs of women and make them more comfortable. In the 90s I would struggle to find good safety gear and changing rooms, but most workplaces are sorted now — even oil rigs and space stations!

Will being female make it harder to find a job in the industry?

I grew up with a father who was an engineer, so I always knew that, as long as you’re a team player and work hard when a deadline is approaching, you can succeed. Engineers are judged on their abilities, not their gender. If you can fix, design and create things, you’ll be recognised for your work. Also, as part of a smaller group, you’ll be remembered if you out-perform expectations.

Many companies, such as Accenture, are actually trying very hard to increase the number of female engineers they have working for them so, while it might have been more difficult in the past, some companies will be falling over themselves to hire you.

Do any companies use positive discrimination to get numbers up?

Not that I’m aware of. Of course, companies recognise that, to recruit from any group that is under-represented, such as women, you must appeal to them. For example, if you’re a female who is searching for an engineering job, clicking on a website and seeing a picture of a woman working there might attract you to that company. However, other than that, I’m not aware of any positive discrimination.

Will it be harder to progress in the industry as a woman?

On the contrary. In a room full of male engineering graduates or apprentices, a female will naturally stand out and senior managers will quickly come to recognise you and remember your contributions. The key is to seek out additional challenges and grab development opportunities first. Be courageous. Be curious. That way, your gender won’t even come into it.

What’s the best way to learn about the jobs I could be doing?

Unfortunately, a lot of young girls don’t have a role model in engineering that they can look up to like I did with my father. This could mean that you’re not sure of the opportunities available to you.

If you do think a career in engineering could be for you, then arrange a work placement, build contacts, and do some of your own research. There are lots of different types of engineering jobs out there, so gathering as much information as possible will help you to choose the path right for you.

How are aspiring engineers supported?

People in the industry know that graduates and apprentices need mentors to achieve their qualifications, so we try to help you from very early on. Female engineers in particular are actually supported by various organisations in many ways.

The Women in Engineering, Science and Technology (WEST) Fund, for example, offers small bursaries to women and girls who are learning, working or aspiring to study in these areas.

Although, decades ago, engineering wasn’t a profession that particularly welcomed women, things are now very different. If you want to secure a job in the industry, you’ll be judged entirely on the skills you have. In fact, with more companies striving for equality, you could even be at an advantage.

Still need persuading? Hear from some amazing young women engineers why you seriously need to stop and think about a career in engineering if you love solving problems and have a creative streak:

  • Meet Tara, who at 23 is already working on a £30 million road-building project after studying engineering at university.
  • Hear Natalie's story, and find out how she's leading a team of five people just six years after going into the job.
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