I’ve been in the building services industry since I was 18, and yet it wasn’t until I started progressing within my company that I realised there was a problem.
Once I left my ‘bubble’ at the office and started to attend design meetings, I realised that I was the only female at the table. When I looked around at conferences, I was one of a handful of female visitors, and when I measured up a plant room on site, all the construction workers looked at me.
It was then it hit me; girls need to be told what a great industry and career choice engineering is. I started to look for ways that I could communicate this directly to school students, when it matters most.
Through the STEM Ambassador Network, I heard about the online I’m an Engineer, Get me out of here event, where engineers answer questions directly from school students. I applied for the two-week event not quite knowing what to expect. Once I had secured a place, I discovered that teachers scheduled 30-minute text chats, and the other five engineers and I in the ‘Mole Zone’ (general zones are named after SI units, not small mammals!) booked into the chats that fitted our schedules.
When the event started, I was in live chats each day with other engineers and classes of students. Any questions which weren’t answered, students could send to the ‘ASK’ section of the website. Engineers could then answer these as and when they had the chance to. I got so engrossed that one night I spent two hours answering questions!
The online ‘chat’ format is such a unique way of communicating STEM ideas to students. It’s an informal setting, so even the quietest and least confident students feel like they can ask questions, whether in live chats or on engineers’ profiles.
Most importantly, when I took part in the ‘Mole Zone’, there was an equal representation of both male and female engineers online, highlighting that engineering isn’t a gender-biased career choice. I feel this way of presenting engineering is an important step into encouraging more girls into the industry and STEM as a whole.
This proved an important way of presenting engineering to the girls taking part, as gender bias within the industry was a common question. Students often asked “Is it difficult to be a female engineer?” and “Do some people think negatively towards the fact that you’re a woman in the business?”. I thought it was important to answer as honestly as possible and give an accurate portrayal of the industry now, and where I think it could be in the future. There is a small group of people who still have negative opinions or attitudes to us female engineers. I answered these questions in the hope that one day, these questions and opinions will be a thing of the past as women become commonplace in engineering.
The informal setting also let students really get to know the engineers as people. They asked thought provoking questions ranging from our educational backgrounds, to political beliefs and the hot topic one day of ‘Kanye vs Taylor’. By answering questions about my job and my feelings towards it, I fell in love all over again with engineering. As well as engaging with the engineers of tomorrow, the chats have given me a renewed vigour and re-ignited passion for the industry.
The students were also voting for their favourite engineer and I was the winner! I have donated the prize money to causes in my local area of Tameside, to encourage all students, including girls, into STEM. Most will go to the ‘Skills and Development Team’ at Tameside Council, who run a scheme allowing schools to engage with businesses for career and education advice activities.
When the event was over it felt weird not having a morning chat to look forward to everyday, but I hope we inspired the students in some way and changed any misconceptions they had about who can be an engineer. The I’m an Engineer event and the team running it were amazing and I would highly recommend taking part to any fellow engineers. The next event takes place in March and you can apply for a space yourself at imanengineer.org.uk/engineers!