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23.06.15

Why we need more women in engineering

Guest blog to mark National Women in Engineering Day by Apeksha Patel, senior electrical engineer at AECOM.

Apeksha Patel resize 635705815356062897As a senior electrical engineer in the rail industry, I sometimes feel a bit awkward when I realise I’m the only woman in design and construction meetings. But, that’s where those feelings of awkwardness end. I have always been treated as an equal in the workplace since starting my career at AECOM back in 2005. Coming from a family of engineers, I’ve always just assumed it’s a career path people who are interested in technical subjects could take, whether they are men or women.

That’s not to say that events such as National Women in Engineering Day (NWED) don’t have their place – the very fact that I am so often the only female in such meetings speaks volumes about how our industry needs to attract more women. A glance at statistics from the National Skills Academy shows that just 4.4% of rail engineers in the UK are women. That says it all.

The reason to tackle the problem is simple: we need more women in engineering because they can play just as vital a role as men. Without generalising, women are often recognised for bringing a completely different approach to achieving solutions. We are able to multitask and innovate, as well as add essential communication skills to a team. Yet, the industry faces two key challenges that are causing the ratio of women to men to be so very far from even.

First, there’s the common misconception that engineering is a male profession. That’s why it’s all the more important that there are strong female mentors in the sector to inspire the next wave of young female engineers. AECOM is aiming to tackle this misconception through initiatives such as mCircles, a global mentoring scheme the company has introduced for female employees in the UK. The scheme provides a forum for the women in our business to seek and receive constructive advice to support their career growth. As a senior engineer within my team, I mentor young female engineers, guiding them with their own design developments.

Schemes such as mCircles are vital for young women starting out in their career. But they’re also very important for women to aid career development, which leads me to the second key challenge our industry faces. Women in the mid-stages of their career can sometimes feel disheartened by a feeling of not seeing any real career path progression. In addition, women who leave the industry for a spell, or take time out for maternity leave, often talk of being ‘punished’ as a result by not getting many opportunities for career development. To tackle this problem, I believe more companies should offer flexible working arrangements, whilst allocating roles depending on capability.

I’m fortunate enough to work for a company that allows such flexibility. I even achieved chartered status in 2013, while I was on my maternity leave. Despite working part time, I am acting as Electrical Traction Equipment (ETE) Contractors Responsible Engineer (CRE), representing AECOM on the major Switches & Crossings (S&C) South Alliance project. Working as part of a specialist team of railway electrification engineers, I am responsible for undertaking, checking and approving design studies and detailed designs for a wide range of electrification projects for Network Rail across the South of England and Wales. I also lead and manage design teams of technicians and engineers.

In fact, there’s never been a more exciting time to work in the rail industry, with the UK seeing a record amount of public investment in rail. There are numerous projects, both under construction and in the pipeline, that are set to transform our ageing network. Rail engineers are in the enviable position of working on high profile projects, and the potential to use some of the most up-to-date technologies that are shaping the industry right now.

However, as that 4.4% figure I mentioned sadly suggests, my own experiences aren’t reflective of the industry as a whole. For more people to view engineering in the same way I did as a young girl, momentum behind events such as NWED needs to be maintained. The industry has to explore ways to promote gender diversity and support women in fulfilling their true potential. This will be a key component to enticing more women into the profession.

Comments

Terry K   01/07/2015 at 11:46

My own Grand daughter wants to be an Engineer and her school grades look like she will get her wish. I would comment on a statement above when Apeksha Patel says women are good at multi tasking, anyone who multi tasks is NOT giving 100% to a problem

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