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23.06.16

Long-term strategy needed to tackle gender imbalance in engineering

Melanie Maldonado AECOMGuest blog to mark National Women in Engineering Day by Melanie Maldonado, principal project manager for Rail London, AECOM. 

It was my mum who suggested a career in engineering to me. A family friend was an engineer and that is how we knew it was a socially useful job with plenty of opportunity. I don’t think we imagined at the time how amazing those opportunities could become, and that I would work on nationally important projects like Crossrail and HS2. 

Now I have been in the industry for 16 years, I wonder how different my career path would have been without my mum’s insight and encouragement.

Over the years I have visited schools to tell young people about engineering and explain the fantastic career opportunities it offers. It always strikes me how few students understand what we do, so it’s not surprising they don’t initially view engineering as a potential career. On top of that, many female students dismiss engineering as a ‘male’ job. 

As an engineer and project manager, I get a lot of satisfaction out of making things work well. I have always enjoyed problem-solving, so this was a very natural career path for me. But I am concerned that many female students don’t think of engineering in this way, or see it as a viable career choice for them. As a profession, we have to fix this. 

There is a well-documented national shortage of engineers and few market segments are hit harder than rail. With huge levels of government investment in rail, there has never been a better time to work in the sector. But if half of tomorrow’s talent pool is cut off at the source, it will be much harder to improve matters in the future. 

Long-term strategy required 

National Women in Engineering Day (23 June) of course provides a platform to raise these issues. But to solve them, a long-term strategy is required to address the profession’s gender imbalance. 

At graduate level the gap between male and female students appears to be improving. Among apprentices, however, the gender split is huge and requires urgent action. 

The apprenticeship route was not an option when I came into the profession, so I studied for a degree. But today’s apprenticeships offer a structured, viable career path that should be encouraged. The balance between study, experience and practical skills is something that I know would have suited me well. 

While I’ve always been aware that I am a woman in a male-dominated industry, I’ve never felt negative about it. I’ve just got on with the job and enjoyed working with my colleagues and clients. But at a recent meeting I attended through AECOM’s mCircles female mentoring programme, I found myself in a room full of women and realised just how different it felt not to be in the minority. 

As a new mum myself, I am very focused on my children’s future. I hope the opportunities open to them are as least as good as they were for me. But it would be great if they could be even better.

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