Meet women engineers as they find space in a male dominated career

While engineering remains disproportionately dominated by male professionals, the imbalance does not candidly paint the whole story of the state of the industry. Albeit less than a quarter of engineer women, the number has been constantly and consistently on the rise over the previous decades. As more women choose to pursue courses in the engineering field, there is still much that can be done to keep the trend on the move.

Even as the world advocates to address gender parity issues, engineering has remained as one of the industries where women are underrepresented. Presently, engineering is one of those industries. Despite efforts being made to increase the number of women working in the engineering sector, a smaller percentage of all professionals working in engineering are women.

Traditionally, girls have been expected to show a preference for what is considered to be “softer” art courses such as history, languages and music, whereas, boys have been encouraged to take on the sciences. Although there are roughly equal numbers of boys and girls taking Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), it is generally far higher amongst boys.

Although engineering is currently gaining popularity as a career choice globally, working in math and science has never been a common career path for women. However, things have changed immensely and the engineering field has become more inclusive since a good number of women have pursued the course defying the gender stereotypes.

While female engineers may still be the minority in the field, many women have set a good example by succeeding in the industry. They have broken stereotypes by showing others that even female engineers can succeed in the field perceived to be masculine.

However, the trend is attributed to several factors. According to Caroline Koech, Chief Executive Officer, Schneider Electric East Africa, the rising number of women in the industry is due to the encouragement offered by Education sectors asking women to find space in STEM subjects.

Besides, many professional bodies for instance American Society of Mechanical Engineers, have partnered in these efforts.

To attract more women into the engineering sector, Mrs Koech urges the industry to enhance its image. “Engineering companies should set up programmes to motivate greater numbers of women to pursue a career in engineering areas. This may involve working with colleges or other organisations to create awareness of the different jobs and career options available in engineering and manufacturing,” added Mrs Koech.

She also advises the apprenticeship with sponsored vocational training or further education to be used to attract interested and talented young women into the engineering and manufacturing industry.

Mrs Koech added that once women have joined the profession, engineering firms should consider retaining them. “This requires supportive management teams with flexible attitudes. With many women trying to balance a career with motherhood, there is a demand for flexible working options, such as the option to work more hours over fewer days, work part-time or work from home,” pointed Mrs Koech.

Snaider working on a power distribution board

With the emphasis on the high-tech fourth Industrial Revolution, there has never been a better time for girls and women to get into engineering but with the changing attitudes from those already in the industry, and some perseverance on the part of women joining, it is salient that more women will find their space in the engineering sector.

Ms Snaida Mmbone, a senior electrical engineer at Duff Engineering Limited is happy to be the only lady electrical engineer at the company and urges her peers to follow her suit in the pursuit to join what was previously considered a masculine career.

“Though it is discouraging sometimes to be the only gender in the department, I would like to encourage women to join us in the fight to end gender imbalance in the workplace,” said Snaida.

“What women need to succeed in this male-dominated profession is simple; confidence. Whereas men have a lot more bravado, we women downplay tour skills and experience. We can be more risk-averse, and so we might not make a big career leap because we are afraid, not ready or shy. Men tend to take those risks and often outshine us,” said Snaida.

She added that women being risk-averse does not mean are less capable, and men in the profession can help by recognizing that and encouraging women to join them hence men must be a part of the solution.

Although she affirms that the number of women in the engineering field has been on the rise, Snaida urges them not to doubt their problem-solving abilities.

To continue encouraging women to join the field of engineering, learning institutions, companies and professional organizations alike need to leverage several valuable resources and create an atmosphere that is conducive to all kinds of engineers and that will undoubtedly make the industry stronger as a whole.

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