INWED2020: Shape The World
23 June 2020
International Women in Engineering Day (#INWED20) is an international awareness campaign which raises the profile of women in engineering, in the hope of inspiring people of all genders to support increased gender diversity in the field. INWED takes place on 23rd June this year, and the theme is ‘Shape The World’. Through this theme, INWED aim to spread awareness of how engineers shape the world and help make our planet a better, safer, more innovative and exciting place to be.
YRP are proud to have a strong representation of women, and specifically women engineers, across our committees & membership. For the year 2020/21, 18% of all National Committee Roles are held by women engineers. However, in the UK, women are still vastly underrepresented in the engineering sectors.
To share some of their thoughts and experiences, and shine a light upon the great work that engineers do, YRP have called upon Laura Reardon (National Accounts and Strategic Partnerships Manager), Fiona Westcough (National Marketing and Branding Manager) and Julianna Moats (National Communications Manager).
Fiona, why do you feel it is important to have more Women in Engineering?
If all teams are made up of people from similar backgrounds, we are more likely to have ‘blind spots’ in engineering design due to a lack of diverse perspectives and ways of thinking. However, having a more representative workforce ensures more effective teams, more creative ideas, different perspectives and ultimately better solutions. In an increasingly complex world, it is vital that we shine a fresh and different set of perspectives on large rail projects! If you’d like to understand more about the effects of cognitive diversity, ultimately explaining why we need more women in professions such as engineering, I would suggest reading Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez. This incredibly powerful book uncovers case studies surrounding the gender data gap and how this has led an invisible design bias within society.
Laura, how did you get into the rail industry? What does your role involve?
I came upon the rail industry by accident and I definitely had not appreciated its size and complexity before I joined. The railway has given me a brilliant variety of projects and clients. I have always had something new and interesting to learn and work on. Now in my role now in safety, I work on proposed designs or analyse existing operations; some days that does mean I am in front of a computer all day but a massive part of my role is working with great people spanning the whole industry. I get to ask them the what, how, why – understanding how the many elements of the system come together - which I love. And we work together, to deliver - sometimes to difficult deadlines - some pretty impressive feats. When I’ve seen that an accident or incident has happened somewhere we think how can we learn from that event. And that is because my job is readily applicable and has impact in everyday life. Ultimately, I can look at all these people travelling from A to B, getting to where they need to go, and say I did that.
Fiona, have there been any barriers to overcome?
I have had a few personal barriers here and there. A study titled ‘Stay or Go? The Experience of Female Engineers in Early Career’ by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 2017 highlighted that 45% of female engineering graduates do not enter the profession. I was very close to being a part of that statistic as, throughout my degree, I often questioned if I would ‘fit in’ and heavily considered alternative career paths. However, a short work placement at SNC-Lavalin Atkins opened my eyes to the vast array of opportunities within the rail industry. My experiences have since been very positive, which is a testament to the kind and generous people within the rail industry. Therefore, if I had one top tip for aspiring young engineers, it would be to find a mentor; someone who can provide both words of advice and encouragement.
Julianna, what advice would you give to Women in Engineering?
I would say that my most practical tip for women in engineering is to harness the power of professional networks, such as Young Rail Professionals, because you can:
- Increase your visibility
- Accelerate your development
- Create new professional and personal leadership opportunities, and
- Find your next job.
Serving as a leader and volunteer within Young Rail Professionals has helped me to enrich my career, but even more importantly, I found a supportive network of friends.
I think this is good advice for all genders, but it has a special significance for women, since societal biases mean that it is perceived as less acceptable for women to ask for raises and promotions directly (see the Harvard Business Review's "Research: Women Ask for Raises as Often as Men, but Are Less Likely to Get Them"), so linear advancement within a single job or field can be more difficult for women.
Stereotypes about women being "more nurturing" or "more social" than men because of their gender create unhelpful gender biases that ultimately harm all genders, in any profession and in life. But luckily the truth is that these behaviours traits are assets, and anyone who cultivates them, regardless of their gender, will have a richer career, filled with unique opportunities and great personal and professional relationships.