Recently, I’ve been a bit ranty about things that really piss me off about working in engineering, and my critical comments might imply to some that I don’t enjoy my work and that I wouldn’t want to encourage other women (or anyone) into the profession. Well, it’s true that there are times in which I get frustrated with crappy attitudes and ingrained biases, sure. In terms of where the industry is going, my experience has showed me that those making the big decisions (perhaps company owners, senior staff and leaders in the field generally) DO want to encourage more women and people from a diverse range of backgrounds into the profession, and support initiatives to make this happen. Even during the mere 15 years I’ve spent in the industry, there has been a noticeable increase in moves to recruit from non-traditional parts of society. The problem is dealing with individuals. There’s no way to legislate for individual prejudices (quite literally – if you face discrimination at work from an individual, you take the company to court – but then, the company really should have done something about it), and a combination of the message not filtering down from the top, and bad behaviour not being communicated to those higher up the chain, leads to a disjoint between the message and the reality.

It’s not all awful, all the time, everywhere, but there are still problems. And the fact that a big deal is being made about the industry becoming more inclusive can lead some people to believe that we’ve fixed everything already and that there is no such thing as prejudice anymore. Which just ain’t so. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a distance to go. I love the work I do, it’s just that when I encounter outdated ideas about my role and capabilities that I feel it prevents me from getting things done.

And would I recommend that women go into engineering as a career? Well, a friend asked me what I would say to encourage his daughter to be an engineer. And I said, “I wouldn’t”. But not for the reasons you think. She needs to make her own mind up. There are so many worthwhile careers she could pursue and engineering is just one of them. Even within engineering, there are a vast range of jobs, places to go, things to see, achieve and dream of. What we need to do is sell engineering as a great career choice, on a par with other highly regarded professions (which it is!). Then engineering can shine on its own merits and recruit not only the numbers it needs to survive, but the best.

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