Women in Engineering – What’s the big deal?

Today is “International Women in Engineering Day” and this week, I had the pleasure of facilitating a Facet5 group session for Carillion Rail in Celebration of their first anniversary of SNOWE (Support Network for Operational Women in Engineering).

SNOWE is the brainchild of Joan Murray (Managing Director, Carillion – TPS Schal Professional Services) and was conceived to provide female employees in Carillion with a “buddy” and support network within the organisation. In its second year and with the support of David Diskin (Operations Director for Carillion Rail) and Rachael Riley (Head of Professional Sustainability) steering the way, it has the potential to be truly great.

There was a good turn out at the event, and with colleagues from Arup and Atkins present, there was a real sense of community and sharing experiences. Key note speaker Jane Collins, Associate Director at Arup shared her journey on becoming a senior figure within Arup, on being an engineer and on being the only female in the boardroom!

However, there were two things that stuck with me after the event. The first were the stats around female engineers. I knew they were low but I hadn’t appreciated just how low they were. I think the biggest surprise was the lack of growth of women engineers in the last 10 years. At an increase of just over 1%, the stats speak for themselves. The industry needs support in training, recruiting and supporting their female engineers and SNOWE is an excellent vehicle to make this happen.

The second thing that resonated with me, was that within the 169 female employees in Carillion, there is still a lot of scepticism about having a support network for women. The feeling amongst many of the female members is that women do not want to be treated any differently and see a support network as receiving “special treatment”. Being female and having worked in male dominated industries my entire professional life, there is a part of me that can identity with that. However, in order to encourage more women to enter the world of Engineering, there is an another way to look at it.

Women in engineering are special. They are unique. If for no other reason than they are grossly unrepresented, this is surely reason enough? For me, the figures that I just mentioned are the biggest single reason why a support network is needed. So that women can work in a profession that supports and encourages female leaders, that supports a women’s choice to have a family (or not) and supports a women’s career path in a male dominated industry. Through Networks, organisations such as Carillion have this opportunity to create an environment where all of their employees, regardless of personal circumstance or gender are able to come to work, safe in the knowledge that they are supported in their role, and encouraged to reach their full potential.

Women in Engineering is a big deal and we should celebrate this. SNOWE is here to support and promote females who work in the industry and to empower women to become Senior Leaders in Engineering organisations. I don’t personally see this as “special treatment” – it’s just a great thing to do to encourage more women engineers and female leaders of our future.

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