To mark International Women in Engineering Day 2021, Madano was delighted to speak with five inspirational women from a variety of STEM sectors about the unique challenges women in engineering face, and any advice they would offer to young women starting their careers.
Now in its eighth year, International Women in Engineering Day is held on 23 June to celebrate the contribution of women in the field, and to raise awareness of the amazing career opportunities available to women and girls. The theme for INWED21 was Engineering Heroes, and Madano’s Michaila Hancock spoke to some of the very heroes Madano is lucky enough to count as client partners.
The conversations that took place were so engaging that we were able to summarise them in a video and provide the more in-depth write-up below.
Who or what inspired you to pursue your career?
I would love to say that I had a five- or 10-year plan. I don’t think anyone has that in reality. I think one of the major reasons I’ve ended up where I am now is because I really loved maths. I had an interest in it, but I had very little experience in coding and computer science early on. Really, I came into the software world on the business side and found a passion there. It opened my eyes to what the business world surrounding technology looks like, and what people with technical skills and analytical skills can bring in that space.
I had a GCSE teacher who was just incredibly passionate about maths. He just had this infectious enthusiasm and I realised how beautifully maths underlies a lot of normal physics phenomena that we don’t notice day-to-day. When I got to university, I absolutely loved it. I’ve always thought that teachers are so crucial in your career.
Back in the day, I don’t even recall thinking about ever pursuing a career in this direction. It’s more about what or who has kept me here. I love the diversity first and foremost – building, designing, creating, decommissioning and anywhere in between. Over 30 years, you make true friends and mentors. In fact, one is my current role model and he’s the person who taught me a lot about the human aspects of leadership.
– Pamela, nuclear industry
The very first person that really inspired me was my grandmother. She designed aircraft carriers during World War Two, so she’s always been this pioneer.
But nuclear engineering specifically? I was reading a Dan Brown book about antimatter and, at the time, I’m like: “Oh, this is science fiction!” But then I started flipping through my physics book and I stumbled on a chapter on antimatter, and it changed my life forever.
Regarding the start of your career, were there many barriers that don’t exist anymore or have the barriers changed for women, do you think?
Maybe the question is best posed to the people who were put off doing A-levels in maths or computer science, or didn’t decide to go to university. Perhaps those people could have had a fantastic career in the technology sector and don’t because they went down a different path. I’m very lucky that I haven’t experienced any barriers in getting where I am now. I think I’ve been fortunate in many respects to have had a lot of support at different stages in education and beyond.
– Joanna Crown
When I was a shift supervisor at a chemical treatment plant, I had to request my own toilet. I was the only female on that site and I really had struggled to find size 4 steel toe cap chemical-resistant boots to do my job, so little things like that. They were some of the physical barriers that existed then. I’m pleased to say, over the last 30-plus years, times really have moved on. I’m aware there’s more to do but they really have changed, and I think we’ve started the momentum now and it will just keep growing.
– Pamela, nuclear industry
I think it’s still the same barriers. I think that I’ve figured out ways to navigate them, and I do a lot of work to make sure that other young female engineers can navigate through it. As someone who transitioned from engineering to policy, it’s a really difficult transition, so the big barrier is: how do I do this and will I be respected if I don’t have the same credentials as other people in my field?
– Michelle Brechtelsbauer, Energy Impact Center
It has changed, for sure. When I graduated, nuclear was not a topic of discussion at all. Now it’s at the forefront. I do work at a nuclear company, but I can’t read the news without hearing about nuclear, so I think it’s very exciting that that barrier to entry is very much removed and now we’re just hungry for people to come join us. I do think there are still some perceived barriers, in the sense that there aren’t a lot of women in engineering and we’re not hearing about them. It’s the perceived barrier for students or young girls, as we don’t hear these stories as much as we do for male counterparts.
– Nikki Maginn
How has it been being both a woman and a person of colour in your industry?
The thing I keep repeating is that I came into this environment, which was largely white and male-dominated, and felt like I had to fit in, which obviously I couldn’t. Embracing that was very liberating. It didn’t change anything about the work I’m doing. It’s a colourful world, so I think just embracing my femininity and not being afraid to let that be very present is something I’d encourage everyone to do.
– Nikita Chaturvedi
What three things would you tell a young woman wanting to pursue a career in the engineering industry today?
Follow what you’re passionate about. I think you’ve got to enjoy what you do, you’ve got to be inspired by it, and it’s got to continually stimulate you. I think a commitment to lifelong learning, digesting information and learning more. Follow where your inspiration goes, learn more about it and gain skills that way. And I think if there’s a third one, I’d probably say connect. Connect with people and leverage the networks that you have around you. So those are probably my three. Follow your passion. Keep learning. Connect with people.
– Joanna Crown
Identify what you want to do and don’t be influenced by anyone else. It is an ongoing journey. I’m still in the process of discovery, but I think as much experience as you can get in different areas of work will help. Don’t be put off by the fact that you might be wanting to go into a male-dominated environment. It does have some challenges, and you might feel self-conscious, but that shouldn’t deter you from what you’re passionate about. Embrace your differences and the fact that you have a different background, because that might help you flourish in the workplace. It’s a wonderful thing to be female.
– Nikita Chaturvedi
The first thing I would tell that young girl is to embrace every opportunity that comes your way. There’s an opportunity to learn in everything you do, so be open-minded to learning and taking what life’s giving you. Also embrace your why. It fuels you and it helps to propel you forward instead of you having to push your way through. Finally supporting each other. It is something women are so good at.
– Nikki Maginn
Thank you to Nikita Chaturvedi, Nikki Maginn, Michelle Brechtelsbauer and Joanna Crown for their fascinating contributions, and for inspiring more women to shape the future of engineering.
Find out more about International Women in Engineering Day here.