Lottie And Fugro Galaxy

Lottie Tour helps children see themselves as engineers

Image credit: WES/Fugro

Initiatives like the ‘Lottie Tour’ are helping to improve representation of women in industry by changing children’s perceptions, but the profession needs to do more to challenge practices that still exist.

Women make up 51 per cent of the general population in England and Wales, but according to Engineering UK, they represent just 16.5 per cent of all engineers. While that’s a six percentage point increase since the last time the research was conducted in 2010, clearly there is still much progress to be made on improving gender diversity and representation.

In November 2022, the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) held its seventh annual ‘Lottie Tour’. Coinciding with Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, it is a campaign that uses ‘Lottie’ dolls, complete with engineering PPE of their own, to capture the interest of a younger primary school-aged audience and highlight career opportunities in the sector. In previous years over 150 engineers were involved with the campaign, sharing pictures of Lottie at work.

By visiting an array of different locations, sites and job responsibilities, and showcasing the many experiences and opportunities on social media, the WES Lottie Tour aims to dispel misconceptions, and emphasise that the term ‘engineer’ can mean a lot more than what many might incorrectly assume.

If there isn’t intervention and conscious efforts to challenge things, the misconceptions and stereotypes about engineering careers becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. Both educational institutions and private-sector employers need to work on creating clearer pathways for women and girls to enter the engineering sector and, crucially, flourish there. Children can internalise a feeling that science, technology, engineering and mathematics-oriented (STEM) careers aren’t for them from a very young age, so teachers and parents need to introduce diverse and relatable examples of people in STEM careers to combat stereotypes and develop a growth mindset.

Employers should be building early careers programmes, apprenticeships and training schemes that support, coach and build confidence – not assuming that one size fits all and that everyone thrives in the exact same kind of conditions. In fact, there are a huge range of job roles, environments and responsibilities that engineering as a sector offers, including areas like data gathering, analysis and processing, right through to design and testing. This is why the WES Lottie campaign is so important and why it’s important to speak up.

My original career plan was to become an astronomer or astrophysicist. But after completing my undergraduate degree and looking at my options for masters, I realised I wanted to work in an area that was more hands-on – something I could see and touch. I did an MSc in Geohazard Assessment instead, covering volcanoes, landslides and earthquakes. Modules in rock and soil mechanics lead me to the career I am in today.

I’ve been in the engineering sector since 2008, when I joined Fugro’s marine site characterisation business as an engineering assistant. Working offshore, it was a big step out of my comfort zone. But as I gained more experience, I began to really enjoy it and my confidence grew. I am now a senior engineer within Fugro’s land site characterisation business and it has been great to see the number of women working in geotechnics increase over the years. Initially I was the only female offshore, but when working on a recent project, we had a team of eight women, four of whom are heads of their departments. This may not sound significant, but it really is.

We need to continue challenging some of the problematic norms and practices of engineering as a profession that can still exist. Gendered tasking and expectations, the values that are supported, and the messages communicated internally all combine to create environments where women may begin to question if engineering is right for them. For those of us who are already established here, like me, there’s an onus on us to lead by example and create space and opportunities for others to take up the reins.

In the time I’ve been working in engineering, we have gone from women being few and far between on some teams towards their involvement rapidly becoming unremarkable. That’s a direction of travel we can all be proud of, and I am excited to see the changes over the next 10 years will bring.

Melanie Zacheis is a senior geotechnical engineer at Fugro.

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