Engineering’s impact means women’s say is vital
Women Engineers Almost everything we touch has been influenced by a STEM worker so more diversity helps us all, says GE Aviation apprentice co-ordinator and L&D specialist Louise Burnell.
What would your advice be to young women thinking about a STEM career?
Having a STEM careers allows you to have a positive impact on both people and the environment Everything that we take for granted in our everyday lives, including the microwaves in our kitchens, the chairs we sit on at work and the medication we take, have all been designed, created and engineered by people working in STEM. I would encourage all young women who are unsure about their future career, to find out more about engineering and the opportunities available as STEM subjects are forever subjects and are constantly evolving. Women should not be afraid to explore sectors traditionally dominated by men and strive to be the most successful person they can be.
Why is it important that STEM professions grow their female workforce?
I believe females provide a different perspective in business, along with new ideas and incredible opportunities for innovation and business growth. As more females enter STEM careers, the industry, which is already breaking down its barriers, will continue to diversify and thrive as a result. STEM industries will be able to attract, develop and retain top talent as a result of this as more females will become role models within STEM. There was a story in the press recently about heart disease in women and how so many female patients are misdiagnosed, leading to heart attacks and death. All of the health professionals involved in the diagnosis and testing process were male, resulting in research based on male symptoms alone. They did not realise women often experience different symptoms. If women had been involved in the scientific research, lives may have been saved because they would have brought with them different experiences and ideas. As more women enter the STEM workforce, I believe gender stereotypes will disappear.
STEM industries are still male-dominated, so why is it important to create a working environment which encourages women to stay in these professions?
I have worked in male-dominated environments for more than 15 years and I have been pleased to see the workplace gradually become more inclusive. Working in a male dominated industry is not necessarily a negative thing. Men tend to be very honest, sometimes brutally honest, and also very forgiving and supportive. At the moment, the industry’s toughest challenge is to engage more women into engineering. We need young females to be educated and inspired about the possibilities and opportunities available to them from a young age. This can be supported through parents, the education system and businesses also. At GE, we have a strong Women’s Network, with over 100,000 male and female members worldwide. Members are able to develop their careers with GE, build their network and increase their skill set.
Is there a need for workplaces to become more culturally inclusive so women do not face barriers but can reach their full potential?
I think there is a need for more inclusivity across the STEM industry and I’d like to see other companies embracing diversity in the way GE has. As well as having a Women’s Network at GE we also have an LGBT Alliance, a Military Veteran’s Network and an African American Network to name a few. If everyone, male or female was educated that equality and diversity was the norm when growing up, and STEM subjects were promoted to all, by all, I don’t think these barriers would exist. We need to form the right habits from a young age. Let’s show our children from the start that men and women can both achieve in any area they want to and that STEM is part of everything we do. This way, they will grow up not knowing any different.
Why is it so important to encourage a positive working environment for women in STEM?
If you are happy at work, you will proud of your work and more likely to showcase y our role and career to those around you. By creating a positive and inclusive working environment for women, they will feel invested in, appreciated and will be more productive as a result. At GE Aviation, we have witnessed an increase in female apprentices, with more females working on the shop floor, and in leadership roles across the business. With the right environment, we can all reach our full potential. If a business is unable to create a positive working environment, or does not deem it necessary to invest in female talent, females will revert to the stereotype and we will take longer to break down these barriers.
Tell us something different about STEM and the campaign to attract more women?
Young girls have a natural impression that engineering is all about heavy machinery and getting dirty. This couldn’t be further from the truth at GE. The working environment is clean and organised, with a clear structure in place. From personal experience, working in engineering has allowed me to work with interesting people from all areas of the business. Being rather short at 5ft 1 (and a half!) I have had experiences where I have had to stand on a box to complete certain tasks, however I have always been able to achieve all of my tasks and goals at GE. Working on the shop floor for eight years before moving into my current role in the learning and development team, I really enjoy hearing positive feedback from the women that work within this business. It is always great to see the results of the steps we are taking to create a move diverse and inclusive industry.