International Women in Engineering Day (IWIED) is an international awareness campaign which aims to raise the profile of women in the engineering sector. IWIED challenges the gender stereotypes associated with this male dominated profession and promotes engineering as a rewarding job for women as well as men.
To celebrate IWIED 2021, FemLegal interviewed a number of engineering students, including Ellie Thomas from the University of Bristol, Katerina Mina also from the University of Bristol, and Ellie Winterburn from the University of Southampton.
Have you always wanted to be an engineer and if so, why?
Ellie Thomas: Civil engineering has always appealed to me - my favourite subjects at school were maths and geography and I love the idea that maths can be used to solve problems
to help people! I am also really passionate about the environment and sustainability
and feel like as a civil engineer I can really make a difference.
Katerina Mina: Not exactly! I always loved maths and science at school, especially physics, and when I was researching courses in sixth form engineering seemed like a great route to take from that. I liked that it combined all aspects of what I seemed to really enjoy at school.
Ellie Winterburn: No, I didn’t. I actually wanted to be a vet for a very long time. It was only when it came to choosing my A-Levels at school that I realised I had a greater interest in maths and physics than biology and chemistry and was better at those subjects. I realised a career in engineering would be more suited to me as it would be challenging but also rewarding and engaging.
Did your sixth form/college encourage and promote engineering as a feasible career for you as a woman?
Ellie Thomas: I considered engineering from a young age, however whilst in school I was always pushed towards medicine. I do not think engineering was promoted or explored
enough, especially being a girl. I am now really passionate about pushing young
women towards the idea of a career in engineering.
Katerina Mina: It wasn't promoted exactly, but once I had decided on that course, they didn't discourage me at all and were supportive. Maths and Science were greatly encouraged but I don't think engineering was entirely seen as a link to those subjects at my school. I also went to a girls-only school so it’s hard to say whether the feasible careers that were encouraged or not were entirely linked to gender. Very few girls went down the engineering route at school though, potentially because it wasn't very common or that it wasn't promoted as an option.
Ellie Winterburn: I went to an all-girls school where girls were encouraged to pursue any career that we were interested in. We had lots of careers events at school that enabled us to discover more about our interests and STEM was always well-represented. We even had a STEM day in year 9 where engineers came to talk to us and give demonstrations and allowed us to try engineering activities.
What motivated you to enter a predominantly male industry?
Ellie Thomas: I have always been excited about what I can achieve and the differences I can make as a civil engineer, so I would say that has been my greatest motivation. I look forward to working on real life projects after I graduate and seeing my designs come to life! I do not really think that engineering being a predominantly male industry impacted my decision and hope it would not affect other women’s choices either! I hope that the gender stereotype in engineering is a thing of the past, and all women
consider engineering as a feasible career.
Katerina Mina: I guess I chose engineering first and then the fact that it was predominantly male was a secondary factor of the industry. I had to decide whether that aspect of the industry or course was going to deter me from taking that route or if in the long run it would hinder my prospects. I guess as an eager 17-year-old I didn't think about it too much and just focused on what I was interested in! Going to an only-girls school also may have meant I didn't think about industry-specific gender stereotypes as much when applying for University courses. Having just completed my degree, I think it’s really important to involve and encourage as many women as possible to not be deterred and to enter predominantly male industries if that's where their interests lie.
Ellie Winterburn: To be honest, I didn’t really give too much thought to the fact that it would be predominantly male as I was keen on studying the subject anyway. So far, I haven’t found it a particularly big deal being a woman on my course as I have been treated the same as the men.
What tips would you give to a young woman looking to study engineering
Ellie Thomas: My top tips would be:
Katerina Mina: I would just say to keep confidence in your abilities and work! It’s very easy to feel intimidated and like you may not belong due to the gender disparity but keeping confidence in the fact you deserve to be there just as much as any man on the course is really important to remember. It’s also really important to remember this in group projects for example where you may not be as outspoken as others.
Ellie Winterburn: Try not to compare yourself to other people and don’t feel discouraged if you’re not the best at everything. Everyone has their strengths, and you are more capable than you think you are.
Do you think it's important to have an International Women in Engineering Day and if so, why?
Ellie Thomas: I think it’s a great idea to have an International Women in Engineering Day to help promote careers in engineering for women and to celebrate the achievements of those that have made a huge difference in the industry! I think it is really important to inspire the engineers of the future and help them realise all the possible career opportunities!
Katerina Mina: I think so. I think its firstly a matter of representation for young women. Its an incredibly male dominated field so I think its firstly important to demonstrate to young women through some day or movement that there is definitely a place for them in the field and to encourage them to pursue this route if its where their interests lie. I think an International Women's Day in Engineering is also really important to highlight the incredible work undertaken by women engineers across the industry which may otherwise be overshadowed or overlooked - which also emphasises the previous point on representation and women's place in the engineering industry.
Ellie Winterburn: Yes, I think it is important to celebrate the work of female engineers to inspire young women and girls and make them realise engineering may be the perfect career for them.
As illustrated by the above discussion, celebrating women in engineering plays a critical role in addressing the gender disparities within the profession. If you are interested in a career in engineering or are currently an engineering student, why not reach out to your university’s women in engineering society or even set up your own!