How many people actually understand what engineering is?
It is no secret that the transport industry faces many challenges and one of them is changing people’s perceptions of what we are and what we do. Engineering also faces the same challenge. There has been a notable movement in an attempt to increase the number of women in the industry. But, if we want to see young girls become passionate about transport and engineering, do we need to address the misunderstood preconception?
Whilst volunteering at a STEM event in January, I struggled to succinctly describe what engineering is and what I do as a job! I joked when I said my parents would not know how to describe engineering, but I think this is true.
When you Google "engineering", the first thing that comes up is:
‘Engineering is the application of scientific knowledge and mathematical methods to practical purposes of the design, analysis, or operation of structures, machines, or systems.’ (Thanks Wikipedia).
As a young female, would I have been inspired after reading this description? Probably not! It would not have sold engineering as a career to me. I much prefer the definition of Civil Engineers, which is:
‘Civil Engineers are problem solvers who create, improve and protect the environment we live in. This can include working on bridges, tunnels, roads, railways and other large structures.’
I am lucky to have a job that allows me to be part of a team who create infrastructure, transport systems and contribute to our future. In order to truly inspire the next generation, I believe we need to improve basic education on what engineering is. This applies to not only those who are choosing their GCSEs or A-Levels, but also to those with more experience, STEM ambassadors, families and maybe even, dare I say it, Wikipedia!
Why did I want to become an engineer?
I am fortunate that the girls’ school I went to worked hard to make sure they showed students a number of different career options. Without that good fortune, I might not have ended up where I am today and would have been blissfully unaware that engineering is a very worthy profession. My maths teacher encouraged me to take part in an ‘Engineering Education Scheme’. I was paired with an electrical engineering company and this opened my eyes to the world of engineering. It was only because of my teacher’s encouragement that I got involved in engineering and discovered that it could be the career for me.
How did I get involved with TfL?
I was sponsored by the Institution of Civil Engineers whilst studying at the University of Nottingham. I had to complete three summer placements as one of my requirements of being sponsored. Although I never directly worked for Transport for London, I was a site engineer on two construction sites where they were the client: Hammersmith Flyover Strengthening Works and Bond Street Station Upgrade. The summer placements provided a fantastic learning experience and inspired me to find out more about working for a large organisation that positively shapes the journeys of millions every day.
Every day has been different. In the last eighteen months at TfL, I have been part of the team that has upgraded the power on the Tube network; I have designed new road junctions and even been part of a team working on the £1bn new proposed road tunnel in East London, Silvertown. I am constantly drawing on knowledge and experience from my university degree to help make the journeys of 8 million Londoners easier.
Why should women get involved with engineering?
As I mentioned earlier, the UK construction industry is always being challenged to significantly improve its performance. It is an industry that places a lot of trust in its tried and tested methods and can sometimes be nervous to embrace new technologies – even with the opportunity to potentially meet new demands. Creating a more diverse workforce by encouraging more females into engineering can only be positive in fostering innovation, inspiring change and representing the cities in which we live.
You might be surprised to hear that only 23 per cent of the TfL workforce is female, but I can only speak positively of my experiences in the industry to date. TfL has far reaching network groups, such as the Women's Staff Network Group and Females in Transport in Engineering, which encourage employees to take part in STEM events, inspiring the next generation to join the industry.
How did I get involved with Women in Transport?
I have only recently become involved with Women in Transport. I attended the winter reception and talk on ‘Data and Decision Making’ after it was recommended to me and I am so glad I did. Yet again it is so inspiring to see strong women supporting other strong women, and I am excited to see what the future holds for Women in Transport.
Do I have any advice?
Too often the focus is on the downfalls of the opposite gender, whereas I prefer to be inspired by fellow women in the industry and focus on how we can work together to ensure the best future for all. That said, I must admit I am not the biggest fan of receiving an email that’s addressed to ‘Gents’ or ‘Chaps’, but the culture is beginning to change. What has been great for me across the industry is the amount of positive change that has been promoted. Take International Women’s Day for example - this milestone is a vital catalyst to the future of Women in Engineering. I have a female civil engineering mentor, who has been absolutely fantastic in inspiring me to stand up for myself, to do more and get involved with this movement.
In fact one day, I hope that we won’t have to be having this conversation… nor will I have to answer any emails starting with ‘Gents’! I love being a civil engineer, shaping our future and contributing to the quality of people’s lives. I would encourage anyone to join this industry and make a difference.