By Karen Blanc, Operations Director at Atkins Global and Chair of Axis Network
International Women in Engineering Day is about focusing attention on the amazing career opportunities available to girls and women in this exciting career. We want girls and boys to grow up to become engineers, because it’s the best job in the world. It really is.
Engineers grow up wanting to make life better for others, and that’s exactly what we get to do, every day! We get to solve problems, think creatively, dream of the impossible and then turn it into reality. You might ask me, what’s gendered about any of that? And I’d completely agree with your point. Nothing. Nothing at all. There are no clear reasons I can see why girls should need any more attention than boys to encourage them to pursue this as a career, and yet…
Girls get turned away every day from pursuing further education in science through micro-cues so deeply embedded in our culture that you might forget they’re there. From the toys they are bought and the verbs provided to them, to the way they are dressed to decorate not function, all before they have learned to express an opinion.
From the way we speak to them and about them, about others, and the ways in which we show them what to be interested in in the world. From the ways teachers and parents guide their school subject choices with unconscious bias, to the role models in our lives and in the media who we expose them to.
If – when – she makes it to university to study engineering, she’ll then have to shrug off the wide-eyed responses every time she tells an adult what she’s studying. She’ll laugh politely when people ask her what her husband’s job is when she’s working overseas alone. She’ll quietly point out the discrimination and double standard, without rocking the boat too much, when her boss tells her she doesn’t really want that role when she’s visibly pregnant at work. She’ll call a friend to fume when she’s dismissively told to take it easy at work when she returns from maternity leave.
She’ll work tirelessly to be the role model for other women that she wished she’d had, and she’ll try to make things better and fairer for everyone around her, whilst still trying to do the job she set out to do all those years ago.
And so, while we are still “other” in engineering, we forge our own paths. Over and over. Perhaps it’s a little easier every time, with every generation that has passed before us, but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to fully exist just as an engineer? To throw all of our energy into dreaming the biggest, and fully realising our childhood ambitions to make the world better? To not have to spend even the tiniest iota of energy on noticing yet another way in which we don’t fit in, to not have to explain why we need – still need – International Women in Engineering Day?
I could have written a piece about all the ways in which I love my job: I love the industry, I love the travel I’ve been able to do and the friends I’ve made. About the contributions to society I’ve made. But whenever I talk like that, true as it is, I feel a little fake for not tackling the harder reality of being a woman in engineering. The stuff we shrug off literally every day. 2020 feels like a year for hard conversations, so here’s my contribution to this year’s INWED. If you’d like to know more about how you can support full gender balance and inclusion in our industry, and learn how to become an ally to women, please visit www.axisnetwork.co.uk or get in touch, we are always happy to talk.