Amira Tamam

Back story: Amira Tamam, ‘It’s normal for me to be in engineering’

Image credit: IET

TV presenter Shini Somara talks to Amira Tamam, mechanical design engineer and team leader at CRP (Corrosion Resistant Products), about tackling engineering stereotypes.

Shini Somara: What or who inspired you to get into engineering?

Amira Tamam: When I think about engineering, I think about my uncle. He first let me help him in his workshop when I was eight or nine years old. As we built a telescope from scratch, he made engineering fun and engaging. I didn’t realise it until I was older, but I was hooked on STEM from then.

STEM ambassadors visited my school and that experience confirmed that engineering really was for me. I studied mechatronics at university, which combined both mechanical, electronic and software engineering.

SS: Should engineering be just for men?

AT: All women that go into male-dominated environments will struggle, mostly because people lack the knowledge of what an engineer does. This can lead to mockery, judgement, and humiliation. I have always made a point of ignoring that negativity and have strived to show that I’m completely comfortable and it’s completely normal for me to be in engineering and that I deserve to be here along with everyone else.

SS: How do we change engineering stereotypes?

AT: I always believe that you change your environment by reflecting yourself onto it. I strive to lead by example. If I have ever felt slightly uncomfortable, I would put extra effort into building self-confidence and inner strength. But all this additional effort has never stopped me from pursuing the career I wanted. I’ve worked a lot on myself to try and be comfortable in such male-dominated environments and it has made everyone else comfortable with me and helped to normalise being one of very few women in the room.

SS: What confidence-building exercises have you had to do?

AT: One exercise that I found useful was where I stopped myself from saying anything negative about myself for 30 days. I built a new positive habit. A second tool is that I try to make sure I know what I am doing by doing additional research to reduce the chance of making mistakes.

Being one of few women does put extra pressure on us. Yet becoming an expert in something does give us more confidence. A boss once told me all women he interviewed were extremely qualified because they tend to be hardworking. I relate to that, because as one of few females, we always have something more to prove.

SS: What are your views on mentorship?

AT: I didn’t always have people to guide me and didn’t have a great childhood. So, my biggest motivation has always been to build a better life for myself. Over the past six years, I have expanded my network and have some amazing female and male mentors now. They guide me on how and what to learn, where and how to research and better myself every day.

I think having a mentor or role model is very important. It’s really inspiring to see someone doing what you want to do one day. Good mentors can tell me I don’t know something in a way that allows me to learn, while positively affecting my confidence.

SS: What are your views on diversity in engineering?

AT: I think that diversity simply makes common sense and is crucial. Encouraging more people to go into engineering leads to innovation, progress, and better business success. It’s extremely important, especially now, as there is a lack of engineers.

SS: Engineering really has the stereotype that it’s not for women. What’s your view on that?

AT: I couldn’t disagree more. I understand why that stereotype started, during the industrial revolution and there was more engineering happening, women had very few rights, they were not supposed to get their hands dirty or do physically taxing jobs. However, now engineering has evolved, and even though women have more rights and have proved to be able to do these physically taxing jobs, still there is such a variety of engineering jobs that women can do – from designing, project managing and data analysis. The reason why I’m a STEM ambassador is I want more people to know what you can get to do as an engineer.

I would have never chosen anything else. I love being an engineer. I know that any project I work on will affect my community in some way. That’s how engineering is amazing. It’s literally everywhere. Other than that, it has given me amazing life opportunities. I have a better life.

You can do so much with engineering. So, whoever tells me that it’s not for women, I just tell them, well, look at me. I’m a woman, I’m an engineer and I’m a really good one, too.

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