Back story: Esmeralda Ypsilanti, ‘There is more of a push in the UK to diversify engineering’
Image credit: Esmeralda Ypsilanti
TV presenter Dr Shini Somara talks to Esmeralda Ypsilanti, a design engineer at electric vehicle company Arrival who has a Masters in robotics and computing from UCL.
Shini Somara: What inspired you to go into engineering?
Esmeralda Ypsilanti: I was interested in designing products that make life easier for people. I enjoy bringing human-centric engineering to design in objects that facilitate people’s lives.
SS: Are diverse and inclusive teams important in engineering?
EY: Definitely. Homogeneous teams predominantly design for people who look, act, and use things the same way they do. The more diverse a team, the more perspectives, opinions, and use-cases on the project, then the more viable for everyone. For example, new products are a lot more inclusive of people with disabilities, who occupy a huge portion of the population. This is thanks to diverse and inclusive engineering teams.
SS: I’m really inspired by your confidence. Where does that come from?
EY: My parents have always inspired me to follow my passions no matter where that leads. They were both engineers as well, so I looked up to them and saw what was possible. Remembering that it must have been even harder for my mum working as an engineer gives me some strength and confidence.
SS: How important have role models and mentors been for you?
EY: I think they’re very important, but also hard to find. Some female engineers do make themselves public, which helps to show that it’s possible. Seeing them is really inspiring and gives us confidence to do the same thing.
SS: How has it been having to speak up for yourself as one of few women in engineering?
EY: When I was studying engineering, I was in the minority. There were two other girls out of 40 students in my course. It was quite lonely in terms of people who I could relate to.
At work, we have been reading ‘Invisible Women’ at our book club, which describes how the transport industry has been designed around men. As a result, women suffer more accidents because things aren’t designed for them – it’s almost like a penalty. So, I think it’s important, even if I am one of few girls in my team, to push my perspectives and bring my opinions to the surface to raise points that perhaps men wouldn’t be aware of.
SS: Has it been daunting to speak up, be heard and be valued? If so, how do you deal with that?
EY: I think it can be really intimidating at first, but I tell myself, ‘be the change you want to see’. So sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and speak up. I’ve also been lucky that my whole team are very supportive. Even though I’m a graduate, they’ve treated me as one of the team. I feel like any points I bring up are valued. It makes all the difference.
SS: What traits are most important for engineers?
EY: Empathy is an important trait – i.e. being able to empathise with the people using your product and understanding their experiences and how they’ll be using it. When girls show empathy, we’re often pushed towards more soft-skilled careers. When men show empathy and creativity they are pushed towards engineering. This is part of the problem. Empathy should be recognised as a skill for all engineers.
It’s also important to show that you don’t have to fit into a ‘lads’ culture to be a good engineer and to make good connections. There are all sorts of people entering the industry and as long as we keep pushing women in engineering, and other minorities, we have some hope of moving away from a male-dominated industry. Hopefully the lad culture will change along with that. There is certainly some push these days when people say controversial things against women in engineering.
SS: Does the future look hopeful for minorities and diverse communities in engineering?
EY: Definitely. I think it’s an uphill battle and a slow one. But just in the past few years, there’s been so much change. I hope to see that continue, not just at the career level, but in schools. Young girls need to see what is possible for their futures and not limit themselves.
SS: What is the culture here in the UK when it comes to engineering?
EY: There is more of a push in the UK to diversify engineering and to encourage more women into engineering. I’m from Greece where the macho culture still exists, where men work and women might stay home or take more traditionally feminine jobs. As a result, you see so many Greek students coming to study in the UK and start their careers here in London because there are more opportunities and less prejudice.
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