Huge benefits to business from diverse workforce
Women Engineers Engineering will thrive if it is inclusive and encourages collaboration and teamwork, says Benita Mehra, president of the Women’s Engineering Society.
Why is it important for the engineering sector to ensure that it has a growing female workforce?
We, in the UK have a skills shortage and industry is realizing that . As women make up 51 per cent of the available workforce, it's only right and proper that we extend the world of engineering to develop and utilise their talents too. We need to make sure that, as engineers, whatever we design and build reflects the needs of the diverse population of the UK and overseas, and as women consumers the are instrumental in making each team inclusive to achieve a more balanced workforce.Lastly, both men and women have different skills. This might be a generalisation, but collaboration, an integrated approach and teamwork are strengths that many women possess. Their inclusion results in a more balanced workforce.
What would your advice be to young women embarking on a career in engineering?
When you join a company, jump in and volunteer for tasks where possible – because who knows what might arise from those experiences? So don't hesitate and miss an opportunity if it's presented to you, or make this opportunities a reality but remember that there must be a balance to life too. Secondly, network within your organisation and outside of it. Recognise that you have a transferable skill, and that talking to people outside of your immediate workplace makes you more visible and can help progress your career but also gives individuals new ideas and experiences that you can bring back to your place of work. This is something that men have been very good at doing. Women less so.
What is the importance of role models and what initiatives are being put in place to encourage women?
How does one define engineering, this is very difficult, as engineering spans so many sectors. Engineering includes everything from subsea to Formula One and telecoms engineering. Defining an industry that is so wide is very difficult. Engineering to me, is understanding the issue and finding a way of solving the problem, these problems could be socioeconomic – for example building the Gothard train tunnel and reducing the time spent between locations, as Crossrail is delivering to London. So the more role models we have talking about their sectors, their experiences and how they got into their particular fields, the better.
There are hundreds of industry-led initiatives. WES has instigated National Women's Engineering Day, a campaign to celebrate the achievements of women in engineering, supported by, schools, universities and companies. Then there's Sparxx, a social media platform to encourage young women who express an interest in STEM subjects; and we run an outreach activity called Magnificent Women, encouraging women to consider engineering as a career.
Careers in engineering are still male-dominated. But is the picture changing? Are you hopeful that more women will enter engineering jobs in future?
I have to be hopeful! Although I do feel disheartened that we haven't seen that much of a difference from when I started my career 20 years ago, particularly with all the campaigning that has been going on. That said, I do believe that things can only get better. However, we do have to step up a gear, because in the next 20 years we don't want to be looking back saying: 'Nothing has changed and there are still not enough women in this industry.' If we look to other countries such as Iran, Russia and China, they are leading the way with more female engineers as schools are thinking about how to aide their students in finding a rewarding career that can be accommodate school leavers who join apprenticeships and then go onto further education or students who chose to further their education by getting a degree at university We should take a lead from them and get our schools to be more open to suggesting engineering.
Tell us something about your career that might surprise us.
In an earlier part of my career I was responsible for the engineering associated with the airfield at Heathrow — that included the runway, the lighting, and their maintenance the whole thing!
These days, in my role as President of the Womens' Engineering Society, I have the opportunity to meet a myriad of people from across the industry and be able to voice the concerns of all parties. That's a real privilege because I do want to make a difference and ensure that the workforce is inclusive and issue of women in engineering is at the forefront of people's minds.