International Women in Engineering Day 2018
“Girls don’t know about machinery”
I’m not an engineer, so you might well ask why I’m writing this piece about International Women in Engineering day. Well one out of two isn’t bad and hopefully I can explain how the engineering bit fits in as I go along. Just over 30 years ago, as a new graduate, I was working for a traditional manufacturing company who were in the engineering sector. It was an interesting time to be entering industry, with the remnants of the management and union attitudes from the bad old days of the 1970s still around, and real health and safety improvement only just starting to happen. I once went to an industry sector conference in Birmingham, where I was one of only three women in the room out of around a hundred people attending.
As a graduate trainee I was seconded to the health and safety department, working with the senior safety advisor who was a practical engineer. I recall one of the site engineers being told that it would be me coming to look at the safety of his new machine and pleading with my colleague to come instead. He didn’t quite like to say (even in those far-off days) “it’s because she’s a woman and I don’t think women know about machines”, but I knew that’s what he was thinking. My colleague assured him that I knew what I was doing (I’m not sure he was right at the time, but I soon learned!) and off I went to look at this thing. Well of course you don’t have to be a practical engineer to understand machinery safety, but you do have to know enough to ask the right questions, so that the people who are engineers can then work with you to come up with the clever solutions as to how we’re going to make the thing safe. Safety, like engineering, is a practical job.
Thirty years later, the days of being side-lined in industry because you are a girl are long gone, but even today, I still come across far more male engineers in industry than female ones. So why is that? Unfortunately, there are still too many old-fashioned stereotypes around out there and so there are still girls that don’t think engineering is a woman’s job. It’s important that those of us working in practical, technical professions do all we can to raise the profile of women in engineering. This year, the theme for the day is “raising the bar” and the aim is to get as many organisations and individuals as possible to take part and raise the awareness of engineering as a great career choice. If you’re reading this, you’ve already started the process!
Author: Heather Collins