Despite huge strides being made in encouraging women to engineering, they still only made up 11% of the workforce last year. With the demand for engineers in the UK reaching a shortfall of 60,000, it’s more imperative than ever for women to be encouraged to consider engineering as a viable career option.
We recently had the opportunity to talk to Karen Devine, a senior substation engineer at GE Grid Solutions, we grabbed it with both hands. With 26 years of experience under her belt, she has a wealth of insight into what it’s like to work as an engineer within the power industry. So, who better to talk to about what can be done to attract future engineers to the industry?
Our Business manager, Kate Wills chatted to Karen at her home to find out about her experience of working as a female engineer in a male-dominated industry and what inspired her to pursue this line of work herself.
Kate: Hi Karen, when did you first think about pursuing a career in engineering?
Karen: I feel it has always been the only thing I ever wanted to do, but probably my earliest proper memory was when I was at primary school doing a project called “All about me.” In the project, I had to describe what I thought my future would look like, including the job I thought I would have. I must have been about 7 years old and I wrote down that I wanted to be an engineer!
Kate: What was it about engineering that interested you so much?
Karen: I always liked Maths and Science at school, loved playing with Lego, finding out how things worked and building little circuits. My Dad was a Chemical Engineer and I was always interested in his work and the places he travelled to. I think I just instinctively knew that being an engineer was what I wanted to do.
Knowing that this was what I wanted to do, meant it was easier for me to choose which subjects I needed to pursue at school in order to progress onto an engineering course at University. Back then, there weren’t any kind of STEM presence and career advice was limited. I did get the opportunity to complete a Jiig-cal career questionnaire and unsurprisingly the results came back that I would suit being an engineer. This was just another indication that this was a natural route for me to follow.
Kate: What have been your biggest career highlights?
Karen: The opportunity to travel all over the world. I’ve been to many places including Korea and India and I got to see the real parts of these countries, not just the tourist areas. Having this time to explore different places and cultures has been great and I’ve loved that this is part of my job. I enjoy what I do, and I will always treasure the amazing memories I’ve had working in such fantastic places around the world.
Kate: How have you found working as a woman in a predominantly male work environment?
Karen: In my experience, I’ve always felt accepted by my colleagues and peers, no matter where I’ve worked. There’s no denying that there are a lot of men working within the engineering sector, but I’ve never felt that I was treated any differently.
Kate: What do you think employers and recruiters could be doing to attract more females to engineering?
Karen: Employers should always choose the best person for the job – irrespective of gender. With the current skill shortage, I get the impression that it’s difficult enough to find engineers at all! The best way to increase the number of girls, is to encourage them at a young age that it’s OK to choose this kind of career, then hopefully more will apply for jobs in the future.
Kate: Why do you think STEM subjects still attract more men than women?
Karen: Unfortunately people still expect certain jobs to be generally done by boys and certain jobs by girls. A few years ago I joined some other adults in an activity at a local High School. We had to give a brief description to the pupils of what skills we needed for our jobs – without telling them what the jobs were. The pupils had to then match the job titles with the people. Unsurprisingly, the engineer role went to a man, the nurse went to a lady etc.
As a STEM Ambassador I am keen to try and get more youngsters interested in STEM subjects. We need to let children know that these subjects are fun and that they can lead to a huge variety of exciting jobs. We should be encouraging all students to take up STEM subjects, not girls over boys in particular.
I don’t feel like there has been a significant change over my career in the proportion of men vs. women in engineering. What we need to be working on is education at a young age in primary schools about what these STEM subjects are and to show that they are inclusive to everyone.
Employers within the engineering sector could take part in the “take your child to work day” as a means of engaging young children and promoting STEM subjects within schools. We did this recently at GE and it was a great success.