Despite an improvement in recent years, let’s face facts — there remains a serious shortage of women pursuing careers in engineering. Europe-wide, women represent only 20% of the engineering workforce, with Switzerland and the United Kingdom having the greatest deficits.
Although there remains much to be done, Siemens is running multiple initiatives to try and address, and resolve, this important issue. One way is the education project called SeeWomen which aims to inspire and motivate female students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
To mark International Women’s Day, set up to celebrate women’s social, economic and cultural achievements, we speak to five female engineers to find out the lessons they have learnt during their time in the industry.
Outnumbered does not mean unwelcome
Yomna is the only woman working amongst 40 men, and is the first woman in the Middle East to hold her specific role. Her work involves re-commissioning gas turbines; a highly technical task that can see her being called to spend weeks in various locations across the Middle East with little notice.
Despite being the only woman on the job, she has never felt like she doesn’t belong. “They didn’t try to shut me out or treat me like I’m different,” she says. “I do not recall having someone who turned me down or told me, ‘You ask too many questions’ or say, ‘Why do you want to learn this?’”
That being said, she also stresses the importance of addressing the gender gap — and believes educating female engineering students about roles such as hers is one way to approach this. She suggests universities should take more engineering students to power plants so they can see for themselves what the role requires.
Anything is possible
Flying the flag for the next generation of engineers, Kelly left her home country of South Africa to take on the Europeans at Siemens program in Germany. With hands-on and academic training, the three-and-a-half year program was set up to prepare young people for a future career in engineering.
Like Yomna, she wants to show that anything is possible. “Some people have stereotypes — they think women can’t do this and can’t do that. But women can do anything, just the same as men,” she says. When she was still at school, she would mentor girls in maths and science — subjects she excelled in. “I wanted to empower them through education,” she says.
Don’t change who you are to fit in
Being outnumbered is nothing new for Victoria, who spent more than six years as an Aircraft Engineer in the Royal Navy. But being female in a male-orientated environment taught her the importance of being herself rather than trying to mould herself to fit in. “It’s okay to be female, don’t try and be a man. Don’t take on their masculine traits, just be a female and you’ll get respect,” she says.
She also believes many women need to gain more confidence when applying for roles. “I think women tend to look at job descriptions and say ‘I have to tick every single box’, whereas a man would say, ‘Well, I tick five of the 10, I’ll apply for it. I think it’s a confidence issue.”
Victoria is an ambassador for getting more women into engineering roles, and supports those in mid-level management to move up to senior positions. She is also committed to helping young women to join engineering positions and finds opportunities to do so wherever she can, including mentorship and public speaking at events.
Never underestimate strong mentors
Shivani works on the Smart Cities Mission in India, which is a government-led program to add a layer of smart technology to its cities in order to make them more sustainable and future-ready. Looking back to her mechanical engineering degree, she was one of four girls in a class of 150, and within the first two jobs post university, she was the only female engineer. But her experiences didn’t detract from her passion for the industry, instead she learned from them. “Fighting stereotypes motivated me to be my own person,” she says.
Joining Siemens, she worked within a factory with 10–15 women and more than 1,000 men. “What was pleasantly surprising though was that my gender didn’t matter, the only thing that mattered was the quality of the work,” she says.
She credits strong mentors and bosses who have helped her to achieve professional success by viewing her as a person rather than simply an employee. “They’ve each been incredibly supportive and encouraging in their own way. I think that’s what I love about Siemens, they truly understand that people work for people.” Currently on maternity leave, Shivani says that her time with the company has also helped her to realize it’s possible to have both a successful career and a family. “It can all be balanced,” she says. “All you need is someone in your corner.”
Go for it!
Under-representation signals opportunity for Sarah, an engineer-turned-operations manager who oversees a factory floor which creates 1.3 million motor drives each year. Because there is a shortage of engineers in general, she believes it’s the perfect time to get qualified and pursue the career. “There’s loads of opportunities as there’s a huge shortage of engineers, it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female,” she says. “Once you have done an apprenticeship or an engineering degree, get out there!”
Yomna, Kelly, Victoria, Shivani and Sarah are all Future Makers — five of the 372,000 talented people working with us to shape the future.