Children in classroom designing wind turbine

Engineering needs more female talent: how do we get there?

Image credit: Syda Productions/Dreamstime

Tackling the climate crisis is one of the challenges the profession can use to attract young women making their career choices.

How can I make a real impact and help to solve big problems? How can I help save the environment and make the world a better place? These are the questions I asked myself when I was considering future career paths. While I was really interested in sustainability and engineering, it was difficult for me to grasp how my skill set fitted into the sector. However, my worries quickly vanished when I joined Naked Energy in 2019.

Not all women have had the same experience. Many are left wondering how they fit within the industry, or simply don’t engage with engineering at all despite the opportunities that are out there. It’s particularly true for the renewable energy sector. If we’re going to attract more women to the industry, then we need to change its perception.

Engineering has a reputation that desperately needs to change. Traditionally viewed as a very technical industry with a high barrier to entry, it’s perceived as difficult to break into, and it’s clear that there's a lack of knowledge of what engineering is truly about.

A lot of the attention is focused on software engineering and data analysis, but engineering is more than just apps and coding. A broad range of hard and soft skills are required and anyone can find a niche for themselves. Problem-solving is a daily occurrence, and if you’re logical or good at multitasking, you'll thrive as a traditional engineer. If you’re creative, then perhaps design engineering is for you. If you’re a strong communicator and enjoy presenting, you might be interested in sales engineering. There’s a whole range of paths, and women should not be afraid to explore the full breadth of careers. There’s a role that fits every skill set in engineering, and as an industry we need to get better at advertising that.

Educational institutions have an important role to play in this, and they’re the key to attracting more female talent. We need to have an educational structure in place that offers young women exposure to all aspects of the sector. Engineering is a multifaceted industry and we should highlight all the opportunities available to girls as early as possible.

Industry outreach is essential in showing what engineering is truly like. College visits and university career fairs are crucial for discovering the industry, while internships allow young women to get hands-on experience.

This is how I found my way into the industry. I knew very little about solar energy before I joined Naked Energy, but I was quickly engrossed in solar thermal. It was an amazing learning opportunity - one day I would be developing products, the next I’d be managing logistics. I thrived on that variety, and I believe a lot of women would be drawn to engineering if they knew how much they could learn.

As a sector, we’re not transparent enough about the opportunities we have to offer, and the potential career paths that young women have available to them. We need to make the industry more visible, and working more closely with educational institutions is a vital step.

The industry also lacks female role models. If we’re going to inspire young girls to pursue a career in engineering, then we need to celebrate the achievements of female engineers. It’s as simple as that.

Having an indication of what a woman in engineering can accomplish would help more female talent see the potential in the sector. While we see a range of female role models in sectors like business and banking, it is rarer to see that kind of promotion for women in engineering.

Undoubtedly, there is some great progress in universities engaging with women and encouraging them to explore a career in engineering. You see a lot of activity from organisations like ‘Women in STEM’ who specially target women that are curious about exploring the many different paths engineering has to offer. They’re well-known for supporting and encouraging girls who want a career in STEM and it’s a great step in the right direction.

However, more could be done. Universities could offer students the opportunity to visit manufacturing plants to meet women in their work environment, or host special seminars where female engineers in senior positions give talks about their experiences.

Engineering is one of the most rewarding industries you can work in - especially if you are a big-picture person like me. If you want to solve some of the world's biggest problems, the climate crisis presents a huge opportunity for you to get involved. Furthermore, the focus on energy transition has led to a myriad of new career paths opening up - something for everyone.

I’d advise any woman considering a career in engineering to be fearless and go for it. There are consortiums and conferences for women in STEM, internships and apprenticeships that are well-paid and only open to women, and a huge support network designed specifically for women. If you are curious about working in the field, take advantage of the opportunities that are out there. With the energy transition in full swing there’s never been a better time for women to become engineers.

Maria Zagorulko is senior development and operations engineer at Naked Energy.

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