What women love about their engineering jobs
If you think your degree course is lacking in fellow females, be warned that they’re likely to be in even shorter supply in the world of work. According to the IET’s annual workforce survey, 8.7% of professional engineers in the UK are female; the UKRC estimates the figure to be 6.9%. And typically, the percentage of women falls with seniority. That compares with the 15% of engineering first degree graduates who are women, and around 21% of postgraduates (source: UKRC).
However, in such a major employment sector, these figures still translate to many intelligent, talented women making good use of their education and training in challenging, worthwhile jobs. TARGETjobs Engineering regularly speaks to such women about their careers and what they enjoy about them. Problem solving, influencing decisions, contributing to genuinely useful projects and the sheer pleasure of working with interesting technologies all play a part.
A supply chain graduate enjoys… solving technical problems
Sarah Rivers, supply chain graduate, AkzoNobel
‘A highlight of my first placement was initiating the upgrade of a problematic ‘palletiser’ robot, which picks up cans of paint and lifts them onto wooden pallets. It was dropping a number of cans of a particular size, leading to mess and delay. I used CAD to try out different palletiser designs: I’d only had a couple of lectures on this at university and so it was time to get the text books out!’
A technology engineer enjoys… constant interaction with others
Katie Malone, technology engineer, Procter & Gamble
‘I help ensure we get the most out of our production line. I spend about 20% of my time in my office and 80% on the production floor or with vendors. The constant interaction with other people is my favourite aspect of the job, though the flipside is that I can’t hide behind my desk if I’m feeling tired!’
An electronic design engineer enjoys… seeing her designs implemented
Shilpa Dani, electrical design engineer, Babcock International Group
I love exploring new technologies and getting a chance to see my designs manufactured and implemented. The most satisfying project I’ve worked on so far was during my training programme: I developed a performance-monitoring tool for a baggage-handling system and demonstrated the development to the client.’
A product development engineer enjoys… driving her company’s new vehicles
Heather Fitch, product development engineer, Jaguar Land Rover
I worked on the latest version of the Jaguar XF on my sandwich year and it’s great now seeing it on the roads. When I returned as a graduate we had a ‘ride and drive’ day, trying out various Jaguar and Range Rover models on the track and off road. I also borrowed an XF for the weekend to display at an event. It was brilliant driving it home to show my parents.’
An analyst and computer modeller enjoys… influencing government decisions
Jill Kempton, analyst and computer modeller, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory
I’m working on a project assessing the capability of future weapons systems. A highlight was finishing a large piece of analysis that formed the case for going forward with two particular options. The MoD has now taken these forward and an announcement has been made by the secretary of state for defence so I feel I’ve made a valuable contribution.’
A graduate engineer enjoys… seeing her work in the national news
Susan McDonald, UK and EU policy advisor (graduate engineer), National Grid
I’m currently working with National Grid’s UK and EU public affairs team. I coordinate my organisation’s input into consultations and summarise incoming information for the senior management team. Having this high-level involvement is one of my favourite aspects of the job. I also enjoy seeing consultations that I’ve been involved with reported in the national news.’
A magnet engineer enjoys… work that benefits hospital patients
Hannah Brice, magnet engineer, Siemens
My employer designs and manufactures superconducting magnets for MRI body scanners. I enjoy being involved in both research and production-focused projects, and the fact that MRI work combines different engineering and science disciplines. It’s also very satisfying to work on products that are beneficial to hospital patients.’
What’s it like being in the minority?
Female engineers tend to work predominantly with male colleagues. How do they find this? We spoke to Roberta Norris, an engineering manager at Air Products with over 20 years’ experience, and Mengdi Kang, an electrical engineer.
Roberta states that: ‘I have more male colleagues than women but it is certainly not a completely male-dominated environment. I have never had any issues with men taking me less seriously because of my sex. As long as you present yourself professionally there can be advantages: people are more likely to remember you for being a minority and often respect that it is harder for women to reach a management level so realise that you must be good at what you do.’
Mengdi comments: ‘When I was applying for jobs I did stand out, being female and from an ethnic minority, but I think this was a good thing – female engineers are in short supply.’ She adds that during her graduate scheme at what was then London Underground, she spent time helping conduct routine maintenance on the trains. ‘I was the only female engineer in the depot and it was quite unusual for the support engineers to see a woman under a train getting her face dirty,’ she explains. ‘However, they were friendly and willing to help and at times went out of their way to give me a hand.’
Support networks for female engineers
Companies are increasingly putting support networks for women into practice, for example networking groups and mentoring initiatives. If your employer has not set up an internal network, there are plenty of external networks that can put you in touch with women from other engineering organisations. You might also have a senior female mentor to answer your questions and discuss how you are getting on. Roberta finds personal networks the most rewarding: ‘Informal support networks work best for me. I have one or two close female friends who are also engineers. I find their support suits me well. Support is a very personal thing and different people have different needs.’