Guest Post by Jenny Ann Beswick
Most people in engineering jobs are men; that’s just a fact. In the UK alone last year, the percentage of engineering job posts held by women came in at just 6% – a figure I wish would increase dramatically.
There has been, over the last number of years, an influx of incredibly smart and influential women in engineering and you should take your cue from these ladies. Just because it’s known as a male dominated industry doesn’t mean it has to stay that way, it is survivable to work in as a woman and I personally know this.
My Background in Engineering
Firstly I grew up with a family who actually had no interest in engineering; my passion came along out of the blue. As a child I was playing in the garden and you would find me in a corner building anything out of anything I could find, you could say this was the start of my female leadership. Eventually, I grew into a young woman, studied in engineering but my educational studies did not stop with engineering I also studied business and project courses. The reason I did this was for job security, to have all round skills and it has come in useful.
My first job was in a scientific lab, getting to grips with the “know how” of engineering in a work environment. I learnt loads in my first job and then moved onto working on construction sites, project coordinating the safety of engineering sites. This led me on to wider projects and even some international work. It was a struggle at first in the industry, as many men looked at me as a woman incapable of handling construction but I was physically capable of handling my duties and my business mind brought many ideas to the projects I worked on which actually out-shined the men on the team. So women of the engineering future, impress with your all round skills and express the ideas you have as it helps you survive in the engineering field!
The Working Environment
The first thing to note is that there is a lack of qualified, appropriately skilled workers for the number of engineering jobs out there, so you are already in a good position to progress if you just have those skills and even up against the men.
A study from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (carried out amongst 3.700 women) found that 33% left because they did not like the “workplace climate, their boss or the culture”. I can relate to this, early in my career in one of my workplaces I was given useless and simple tasks to perform on the construction sites and was even told to “make the tea” for the men! This culture obviously did not suit me and I finished my contract and did not renew. I left with my head held high, and did not storm out with being treated differently – I survived when mistreated.
The study also found that a further half left due to “working conditions, too much travel, and lack of advancement or low salary”. Ultimately, however, the study showed that it wasn’t just ‘having a family’ that women cited as a reason for leaving the engineering industry (it was lower than expected at just 1 in 4 survey respondents). True, that the salaries are lower for women and my salaries have always been lower than a mans in engineering but I have had promotions and bonuses based on work performance, so women show what your capable of and you may get a bonus too.
Paving The Way For Female Engineers
There are a lot of reasons why women don’t survive in engineering but with determination, a lot of preparation and realistic expectations about career advancement you can endure and prevail and really enjoy your work life as I did.
I was aware of the many problems of survival before I entered my careers, the inflexibility to women having families, the non-support of women in a male-dominated work environment and the grueling work schedules. It’s not as bad as it seems and to be fair I have had reasonable work schedules but there are times you can be called into an emergency out of hours and you should bare this in mind; dependent on the type of engineering work you are involved with. For me I contracted and managed certain areas of a construction site so if there were faults or electrical outages I had to run off and reset these manually when on standby.
Women are coming to rescue all over the world and in different fields. In IT, Jennifer Chayes is paving the way for women engineers – a former professor of mathematics at UCLA, she moved to Microsoft and now has more than 20 patents under her belt. Marissa Mayer is one of the most famous examples of women dominating in engineering – at just 37 she was the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 Company (that company is Google). Her career path is inspiring and she is a mother with an incredibly high-powered job. It can be done!
My Survival Tips for Women in Engineering
If you decide to get into engineering, here are some tips:
- Don’t take any flack for being a woman – if you feel you’re not being treated equally, speak up!
- Be realistic about working hours – ask your boss to be flexible, but don’t expect miracles or special treatment and work on projects you know you can dedicate your time to.
- Try and join a professional organisation such as IEEE Women In Engineering
- Look into getting a mentor. Better still; get two – male and female – to help answer the questions that will arise throughout your career. It might be that your problem is one shared by all engineers – not just women!
- Remember that the perceived barriers in your profession are shared by women in all walks of life, so don’t give up on your ambitions and aspirations.
Jenny Ann Beswick is a graduate of engineering who has worked in various fields of engineering work. From her first Telegraph job in engineering as a lab assistant to now a freelancer Jenny is able to give advice and encourages you to explore the opportunities and take leadership!