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Female engineers highlight changing industry attitudes

MORE work needs to be done to encourage women to take up and stay in engineering, according to some of the East Midlands’ leading female voices in the profession.

Natalie Clemson on CC Live.

Representatives from Pick Everard, BE Design, Curtins, Dice Consult, and Thissen Consulting shared their experiences as part of a special International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) CC Live webisode from PR agency Cartwright Communications.

The group fielded questions on the importance of early intervention and Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) mentoring, as well as their thoughts on the current imbalance between the numbers of men and women in the industry.

According to a report by Engineering UK, just 12% of engineers in the UK are women with just 25% of girls aged 16-18 considering pursuing a career in the industry.

Natalie Clemson, director of the highways and infrastructure team within Pick Everard’s civil engineering division, said: “The traditional role of women in the workplace is changing a lot, and the industry itself has become much more active in promoting itself to women and girls. A diverse workplace is what is needed, and women bring a certain skill set that perhaps wasn’t as prevalent before.

“The attitudes have definitely changed. Things like casual sexism in the workplace are certainly less tolerated now, and you see a lot more women on-site – when I first started out, it took six weeks to get site boots in my size.”

Her view was echoed by Anna Tsartsari, director at BE Design, who had a similar experience at the start of her career.

Tsartsari said: “When I was at university in Greece, the disparity wasn’t so large, but when I got my first job, I wondered where all the women had gone. It is something you have to get used to and persevere with, and eventually it isn’t even acknowledged.

“We partner with local primary schools, RIBA in the East Midlands and also the University of Sheffield to try and work with children of all ages to encourage them that a career in engineering is a great choice for boys or girls.”

Daphne Thissen – whose consultancy advises engineering firms and other businesses – agreed with both Natalie and Anna, adding that employers also need to be better at retaining women once they join the workforce.

Thissen said: “Retention of women is an issue in most industries, but especially in technical careers. Once women have children, they may come back but there are potential childcare challenges and there is a perception that they may be less focused.

“These biased attitudes are still very much prevalent, especially in male-dominated careers like engineering.”

Despite there still being more to do, the panel took a positive view of the progress made in recent years as the numbers of women working within the industry has increased, as well as the reception they get from their male colleagues.

Laura Dance, assistant civil engineer at Dice, said: “I have never had any problems with being a woman in engineering – if anything, it has been beneficial. Because it is a male dominated environment, people really make the effort and you tend to be welcomed in more because they don’t want you to feel excluded.”

The full webisode, broadcast live on Friday 26 June, is available to view here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Yu83md6kLM

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