International Women in Engineering Day: taking a step in the right direction

Even though the tech industry has evolved greatly, only one in five jobs are held by women in the wider engineering sector as a whole.

The good news is that, slowly but surely, things are heading in the right direction and more and more women are joining the technology workforce everyday. DiversityQ spoke to six female technology experts for their advice, and personal experience of  working in the field in honour of International Women in Engineering Day.

Room for improvement

The Equal Franchise Act was passed in 1928, granting UK women the same rights as men to vote, and so much has continued to change and evolve since. Women have more freedom these days to pursue a career in whatever they are passionate about – no matter what field.

But, as Caroline Seymour, Vice President, Product Marketing at Zerto, points out, “There are still some challenges women need to overcome, especially in a field like technology that is often male-dominated. While companies have become more sensitive to the gender gap in the industry over time, there is still so much more to be done to change the industry’s culture to close this gap and encourage more women into high tech careers.

“I have worked in the tech sector all my career. I chose this path as I am fascinated by the speed and ever evolving technology landscape. When I first started there were very few women in tech and this has certainly increased over the years but not as fast as I would like to see, and it is still predominantly a male-dominated industry. There is most definitely a huge opportunity here for women, especially within the engineering, software, cybersecurity, cloud, and AI sectors.

“There is still so much to do to recruit women in this space and that must start at school age.

“It’s not for the light hearted and you have to be strong, and not easily intimidated to overcome bias that you might face, but that’s all part of learning, and you keep at it. Perseverance is important, be confident, believe in yourself and your work, and others will too.”

Overcoming the first hurdle: education in STEM

Women are vastly under-represented in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sector, with only 12% of engineering professionals in the UK being female. Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President at Skillsoft, believes that: “If we want to see more women in these industries, we need to change how women relate to STEM subjects, and how they measure their own potential. Women are often tougher on themselves, not giving themselves the recognition they truly deserve.

Research shows that from primary school age, girls are significantly less likely than boys to view themselves as capable of becoming an engineer if they wanted to. And when looking for a new role, women will apply only if they feel that they meet 95% of the job description, whereas men may apply for the role even if that percentage is much lower.

“Encouraging women to pursue a career in engineering and other STEM disciplines means challenging the unconscious bias that they are not as capable. Women should be confident in their abilities, and not be held back from going for a job, a promotion, or from asking for a pay rise. They should take International Women in Engineering Day, not only as a day to celebrate the multiple and incredible achievements of the female engineers that inspire them, but their own personal successes and hard work.”

Imogen Smith, Applications Engineer at Content Guru, gives her own personal account of studying STEM: “At school, I was encouraged to do History or Law over Maths by our Pastoral Care Department and Head of Sixth Form. In fact, the school wasn’t planning on running the Further Maths A-level at all, as it ‘wasn’t a real A level’. But I liked how Maths is so logical, which is probably what drew me to it initially. I think I was always going to end up doing a STEM subject because both my parents have PhDs in Sciences, so I learned to love it from a young age. I consider myself very lucky in that respect.”

Dispelling the myths

International Women in Engineering Day enables us to showcase and celebrate the incredible work that female engineers do every day. It is also a great opportunity to remind and encourage women and young girls to consider a career in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sector. Agnes Schliebitz-Ponthus, Director Consulting at Fluent Commerce, says, “This is important because STEM careers such as engineering are male-dominated, with misconception lying in the myth that men are for some reason better suited to these careers. Research suggests that at primary school age, girls and boys are equally excited by these topics. It is by the time they reach senior school, that gender socialisation has already done enough ‘damage’ to impact girls’ enthusiasm for STEM.

“In my own career, I had the opportunity of taking a position at Amazon HQ in Seattle. Whilst there, I was inspired by the substantial numbers of female software engineers from a variety of backgrounds in senior roles. These women worked extremely hard and motivated me to push myself more to perfect my programming and software engineering skills. And now at Fluent Commerce, I’m surrounded by an equally inspiring team working to the common goal of helping retailers adapt quickly to the rapidly changing world of ecommerce.”

Next steps

Jacquelyn Ferrari, Principal Software Engineer at ConnectWise, looks into what organisations can actively do to encourage more women into STEM: “Even as more women enter the field, we must address these social issues and show girls that their enthusiasm can translate into rewarding careers from the start. Organisations like Girls Who Code provide outlets for young women in STEM, but we can also create new programs in our communities, dedicate personal time to educating women and ask our companies to bring resources to underserved communities.

“In addition to increasing outreach beyond your organisation, companies can:

  • Retain – By creating a strong company culture that nourishes a supportive environment, employees will remain loyal to their organisations and flourish in their roles.
  • Attract – Employing more women draws women in. When women see peers who are happy and successful, they picture themselves in those positions and are encouraged to apply.
  • Connect – With few women in the field, it can be difficult to find the right group that fits each individual’s needs, but recognising what those needs are and building a community of support around them through networking is instrumental in career development.
  • Support – Having a mentor helps new hires and up-and-comers hone their technical and professional skills. Mentors can provide guidance and training, but they can also serve as allies within the field.

“Using the steps above, companies can continue to build on and sustain the talents of women in their organisations and pave a path toward greater diversity in the industry overall.”

Samantha Humphries, Security Strategist at Exabeam, also gives her view on what action must be taken to promote better diversity in the industry: “It’s getting better, slowly, but it’s still a challenge and it’s not where it needs to be. Diversity is now a conversation and a recognisable issue in the industry – which is a step in the right direction. More people are comfortable talking about it and voicing their opinion, and there are more opportunities and safe spaces for people today, which is vital.

“For the last three years, I’ve been involved in The Diana Initiative, which is one of the many conferences that take place at ‘Hacker Summer Camp’ in Las Vegas. They’ve done an amazing job of creating a safe space focused on diversity and inclusion in cybersecurity, where participants feel comfortable to network and learn, and be inspired by speakers at a conference that embraces everyone. I’m also proud to be part of the ExaGals program, which looks to support and empower the women of Exabeam, as well as women in the technology community at large, with career development, education and personal growth opportunities.

“My hope is that by supporting programs that expose and encourage women and girls to the possibilities of an education and career in tech, we can help address the skills shortage by introducing new perspectives and problem-solving skills to the industry.”

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