on March 10th, 2022

There’s been a continuing influx of women studying in the field of engineering and ultimately joining the workforce and contributing to academia.

There have been numerous discussions about closing the gender gap and weeding out discrimination, and sure there’s been tremendous progress made, however, the pursuit is far from complete.

On International Women’s Day this March, we are celebrating the contributions of women to the engineering industry, education, and research, and discussing what is being done to pave the way for greater equality in the workplace.

Engineering education with women leaders at EIT

Dr. Ana Evangelista: Course coordinator and lecturer for Civil and Structural Engineering
Dr. Arti Siddhpura: RPL and PD coordinator, lecturer for Mechanical Engineering
Indumathi V: Deputy Dean
(MIEAust, CPEng, NER, MBA, BEng, Grad Dip Ed, Cert IV TAE)
Dr. Yuanyuan Fan: Course coordinator and lecturer for
Electrical Engineering

With the importance of women in engineering in mind, EIT’s valued lecturers and academics gave their input on their roles within the field of education, how diversity is changing but did not skimp on advice as well as specific challenges they have faced to build successful careers within their respective fields of engineering.

Do you think there has been a greater emergence of female engineering students, from when you studied to now?

A long time ago, during high school, the girls were more motivated and encouraged to study medicine, law, dentistry and architecture. 
 In my opinion, it is common because during high school we cannot imagine or visualize the flexibility we have as an engineer. These are several areas and positions that a female engineer can embrace, but we don’t see it yet.
Being born and raised in India, I have experienced the collision of gender-stereotype and engineering-stereotype first hand. But I was lucky to witness a paradigm shift. Electrical engineering, electronics engineering and computer engineering courses were more popular among female students. When I started teaching, the emergence of female engineering students kept improving.

What are some exciting and interesting projects you’ve worked on as an engineer or academic? 

I've worked on projects targeting the mitigation of natural resources depletion. My favorite area is sustainability in construction engineering and recycled concrete.
The constraint control of a simulated oer crushing circuit, and the simulation of real-time onboard condition monitoring systems for heavy rail haulage wheel bearings.
I get to see problems and solutions with a different lens.  I don’t deal with people directly in my engineering career, but the products I work with impact thousands of people.
I worked on a predictive maintenance project utilizing machine learning in wind turbine condition monitoring. It was interesting because of the interdisciplinary research. 

Why do you think STEM education has been slow to diversify?

From university women engineers always have to prove themselves above and beyond to be accepted. We have been trying many years with various programs to promote girls and women in STEM, but the results are still in their infancy.
It has been slower because there is a voice to diversify, but not that much action in my opinion. 
It means there’s not a lot of progress made. For example, female students in girls’ schools sometimes may not learn enough math. 
STEM is still slower in terms of promoting more females and balancing the gender ratio. A few challenges women face are lack of confidence and intimidation, lack of transparency, gender stereotypes and societal assumptions.

What would you say to females entering engineering for the first time as students or professionals?

I used to say that engineering is a broad area and you will have the opportunity to work in a multidisciplinary team. It is possible to build your knowledge and find a role suitable to your personality and vocation.
A degree in engineering can open so many opportunities for many career pathways, so be open to new and different opportunities that you will encounter along the way and enjoy the journey of engineering.
The best thing a young engineer can do is be authentic to themselves.
Not who society wants them to look like or be like, or what their workplace wants.
Your individuality brings power to everything that you do.
You are the only one that can stop you from becoming an engineer. If you believe in yourself, then you are in. Female students in girls’ schools sometimes may not learn enough math to allow them to become engineers.

How did you manage to split your life to raise a family, while working and then also being a woman training future engineers?

I enjoy my work as an engineer and an academic and it is possible to accommodate my family's demands. However, the most challenging time for a mother is when you need to take care of your babies and keep up-to-date about the continued changes in your career. I think this happens to every woman.
This is not possible without perseverance and tremendous support from my family, especially from my spouse. Without my parent’s support, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish my bachelor's and master and without my husband’s support, a PhD or a career wouldn’t have been possible.
The work-life balance women struggle with is there in all disciplines. Having a supportive partner makes a difference in managing commitments and so does having a supportive team at work. The other aspect is priorities, it’s about balancing what is the most urgent.

 Why is engineering interesting for you, and what do you always take away from the field?

Engineering is a field
where you can always challenge
yourself to contribute and make a difference in people's lives from
different perspectives like embracing social, economic, and environmental aspects. 
I like to keep myself up-to-date with not just the latest trends in engineering, but various global challenges we are facing and this helps me induce interest in young student engineers – preparing them for the challenges and problems waiting to be solved.
I have some advice for young engineers, ask for feedback – so you can reflect and grow. Then, never stop learning, even when it is hard and feels like some comments are rude or a putdown, take the emotion out and see the true message that you can take from it.
Engineers design, create and manage ‘real stuff’. In my field, I love the fact that we play with ‘invisible’ electricity. There is no technology without STEM, so the lack of STEM education would mean less advancement. Our society would not be able to progress as a whole. 

Tell us about your family?

Without my parents or husband degrees and a career would have been impossible.
My kids are interested in STEM as well, and they're not bad in STEM subjects.
My family and career are interconnected and support each other. 

Do you have any suggestions for female student support?

Hire more female faculty members, have a mentorship program to support female engineering undergraduates, promote women in STEM on the website and marketing material and introduce students to all types of successful female role models.
We as a society need to make sure that in the name of making way for more women in STEM we are not marginalizing any men. We should instead focus our efforts on educating society about these biases and find a more balanced approach to address the issue.

Ways to foster support and structures for women in engineering

A main topic of discussion is the fact that even though more female students are studying for engineering qualifications, they face difficulty landing a job.. According to one study 8 out of 10 prospective employers are still skewed to pick male candidates. It means that there’s a disproportion of qualified students within engineering, yet not enough employment opportunities for women.

How to change it

Dr. Cynthia Furse is a professor in electrical and computer engineering and presented How to Be a Great Advocate for Women in Engineering at the end of 2020.

She offers five steps to offer productive and great working spaces for female engineers.

  • Take a look around you

To be an advocate for your community Furse recommends that you know who is there. If a team is too homogenous you have to ask why that is.

While there is a variety of reasons for gender differences in engineering, engineers need self-awareness to ask the questions of why it is, and also look at why it is important to change it.

  • Know everyone’s skills

Within a work environment, all skills have importance and younger colleagues or females are sometimes overlooked. When managers and peers understand everyone’s different skills there is an opportunity for skill transfer while also diversifying the organization. Females should also reach out to peers and mentors to ensure their experience and skills are developed and used.

  • Everyone should be heard

According to Furse it often happens that women do not feel that their opinions are heard or valued. As a result, women are sometimes less likely to ask questions or express themselves and become less likely to engage in meetings, and their contributions are missed.

Fruse says that other engineers should look at colleagues who look like they want to say something during meetings and reaching out with words like “I think (insert person’s name) has a thought or question” can show support for what that person is trying to convey. Online meetings have become a good way for employees to express themselves thanks to the chatbox functionality. More women are likely to share thoughts or experiences there than verbally joining the meeting.

  • Get rid of discrimination

While it’s easy to think that we try to be fair, there are always biases at play in a variety of professional and academic environments. Fruse mentions that women instructors and racial minority instructors are more critically evaluated during student evaluations at university. Engineers need to understand systematic biases and also be aware of their own.

  • Stand up when facing, or witnessing discrimination

Decide what you believe is the right thing to do in any situation involving discrimination, either as a witness or the person being discriminated against. While each situation is different, it is important that it is always addressed. Fruse says that private conversations seem to work best for individual concerns, but that it’s important to know a company or institutional structure.

There is always a manager, human resources department, chair or Dean whose job it is to handle these situations and eliminate discrimination.

While it is still hard to address problems of sexism and discrimination, these conversations and actions are of great importance and needed in the workplace to allow female engineers to be part of the team but also know that they are supported when anything uncomfortable arises.

References:

Furse, C.M. (2020). How to Be a Great Advocate for Women in Engineering [Women in Engineering]. IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine, 62, 98-103.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

The latest news

EIT News

The Must-Visit Engineering Museums

In honor of International Museum Day, why not celebrate the museums that give visitors unrivaled access to everything we love about engineering? International Museum Day takes place on 18 May,... Read more
EIT News

Agriculture Automation Is A New Engineering Frontier 

Population growth, global warming, and the advancement of technology have meant that Agriculture Automation is a needed and positive response to traditional agriculture. Artificial Intelligence (AI) allows for better monitoring... Read more
EIT News

How Not To Let Robots Steal Your Job

When it comes to automation and bold headlines like ‘robots taking human jobs’ one thing is almost never mentioned – how humans are able to keep their jobs despite digitization.... Read more
EIT | Engineering Institute of Technology