More women in engineering are needed to balance this – often male-dominated – sphere. A gender-diverse workforce is more successful that a single sex one, so women’s roles can only bolster success. GE Aviation apprentice co-ordinator and Learning and Development specialist, Louise Burnell, shares her thoughts on her role in engineering.
What’s the truth about women in engineering?
Young girls seem to have the impression that a career in 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. Engineering has allowed me to work with interesting people from all areas of the business. Being rather short at 5ft 1 (and a half!), there have been times when I’ve had to stand on a box to complete certain tasks, but I have always been able to achieve all of my tasks and goals at GE. Almost everything we touch has been influenced by engineering; girls should have a part in that.
I’m in the learning and development team and I really enjoy hearing positive feedback from the women that work within this business. It’s always great to see the results of the steps we are taking to create a move diverse and inclusive industry.
What is stopping women working in STEM?
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 get more women in engineering. We need young females to be educated and inspired about the opportunities available to them from a young age. Parents, the education system and businesses must all offer this support. 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.
Why should STEM workplaces grow their female workforce?
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, so 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, forming diagnoses from 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.
How can a engineering jobs help women reach their potential?
I think there is a need for more women in engineering and greater inclusivity across the STEM industry. 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 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 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.
What makes women want to work in engineering?
If you are happy at work, you will proud of your work and more likely to showcase your role and career to those around you. By creating a positive and inclusive working environment, women will feel invested in, appreciated and will be more productive as a result.
At GE Aviation, we have witnessed an increase in female apprentices. There are 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.
What is your advice to women thinking about an engineering career?
A career in engineering means you can 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 in STEM. 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.