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, 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 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, 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
“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.
Sook Meng Muk, Senior Director of Engineering at Matallion 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, 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.”
“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, 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.”