Paving the way for females in engineering

Female engineer

In 2014, the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) launched National Women in Engineering Day, an annual day to highlight the huge gender imbalance within the engineering industry.

They brought light to the fact that there was a massive lack of engineering skills on a global level, partly due to less STEM graduates and more importantly, the societal pressures on and expectations of women to not pursue STEM careers. The day encouraged all groups, from government to education, to support women in engineering and encourage girls to pursue their passion for engineering.

Last year, a study showed that still only 9% of the UK’s engineering and technology workforce were female. It seemed that although the awareness day had an impact, the goal of gender balance within the engineering world was going to take generations of support and education. WES knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, but it was important not just for businesses, but for girls and women everywhere who had felt that they shouldn’t pursue their dream.

Becky Naylor is well into her engineering career and works for the University of York. I asked her about her current role, career path and advice for young engineers:

So Becky, what do you do?

As a Research Associate in Electronic Engineering I spend a lot of my time developing software simulations, for example of robots, and running experiments using them. My current project helps to expose the evidence behind the simulation to demonstrate why we believe it is a valid representation of the real world process it is modelling.

Why did you chose this job?

I enjoy research and software engineering and it seemed like a natural progression from completing my PhD in Artificial Neural Networks.

How did you get to this point in your career?

At college I enjoyed computing and design and technology so I chose to study for my Master of Engineering at York in electronic engineering. Afterwards I applied for a studentship for a PhD in computer science which was necessary for my current research post.

What challenges do you face?

Research is a constantly moving area, where we aim to develop novel ideas that have not been done before. A big challenge of research is that the problems that we try to solve are not well defined and may not have a solution at all.

What do you enjoy most?

The work that I do is varied, I get to learn new skills for different research projects. I also get the opportunity to collaborate with researchers and academics from across many different fields including environment, biology, computer science and archaeology.

Have you come across any gender-based discrimination?

No, I feel fortunate to work in an environment where I am judged on the work that I do rather than my gender.

Do you have a female engineering idol? If so, who?

I didn’t really have such an idol when I entered the field but having been inspired do some reading I think a worthy idol would be Beatrice Shilling. She decided very young that she wanted to be an engineer and earned two engineering degrees before working on aeroplane engines during World War 2. She also raced motorbikes in her spare time.

What advice do you have for girls wanting to go into engineering?

Engineering is a rewarding and challenging field to work in. As a female you may be in the minority in the classroom or workplace, but never let anyone tell you these are subjects just for boys. Picking STEM subjects at school and college will give you a lot of choice for engineering and science degrees, which are a big advantage to a career in engineering.

Becky Naylor is one of many in the UK that are leading the way for women in engineering. Through support, awareness and fair work environments, we can encourage girls to pursue their career goals and boost the engineering industry around the globe.

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