This was the essay I wrote that awarded me with a scholarship to attend the ICWES15 Conference. The scholarship was given by the Victorian Division of Women in Engineering. The topic we had to discuss was "The best way to attract, develop and retain women engineers and scientists".
The topic of the best way to attract, develop and retain women engineers and scientists is a subject that is very close to my heart. I have done a lot of work in the area of women in engineering as the founder and director of Robogals, so I am aware of the issues that influence whether women pursue a career in engineering or not. I think the best way to attract more women to engineering is through outreach programs where female engineers can present themselves to schoolgirls as role models and do fun engineering activities with them to get girls inspired about engineering. On completion of their tertiary degrees, engineering companies need to engage with female engineering graduates and address any concerns they have about the industry. Once engineering companies deal with the concerns women have about the industry, developing and retaining female engineers is not a problem. This topic has an enormous impact on me as an engineer in the 21st century as I want to start my own robotics company in the next couple of years.
I am the founder and director of Robogals, which is committed to substantially increasing the number of young women pursuing engineering in their tertiary studies and careers. As well as teaching over 1200 girls LEGO robotics lessons last year to get them inspired about science, technology and engineering, our other activities include the Robogals Rural and Regional programme, which allows us to reach out to and inspire girls in rural and regional areas, as well as the Parents and Daughters Science Challenge, which will be launched in late July this year, and which gets girls and their parents from all over Australia to videotape and submit a science experiment online to win some great prizes. The activities Robogals undertakes around the world are designed for girls primarily aged 10 – 14, as girls in this age range are yet to choose their senior year subjects and hence still have the opportunity to easily go down the engineering study pathway. I think activities such as these are key influences in engaging girls in the possibility of studying engineering and I think more support for them will ensure that more women are attracted to studying engineering and science. Organisations like Robogals will ensure that more girls study engineering in the future.
Once girls have finished their tertiary engineering degrees, engineering companies must engage with women by dealing with the concerns women have about their industry. I think there are two primary concerns for women working in the engineering and science industries – the work/life balance of having a great career, but also having children, and the engineering culture not always being very favourable towards women.
On the first point of the work/life balance, I think this differs for women in academia and women in industry. For women in academia, I know that taking a few years off to have children will result in a lower number of papers and citations, which affects their ability to raise money for research as compared to their male counterparts. I do not have a solution to that. For women in industry, I think it’s just a matter of forward planning. I’ve thought of this issue a great deal as I plan to have a life in technology, but I also want to have a family. Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook provided the inspiration behind my solution. I intend to work very hard on my career and company until I’m 29, and then I intend to take a few years off work to start a family, while still being involved in my company in a reduced capacity. That way, I will be able to create a family without compromising on my career and professional contributions to the world. In order to attract women and allay them about their concerns of a work/life balance, I think it’s very important to speak with them and be upfront about the issue from the beginning so they can come up with a plan to have it all, while establishing a great career for themselves in engineering. To retain and develop women engineers and scientists, I think it’s important for employers to recognise that women may want to take leaves of absence in order to go and begin families, and to factor that into the company’s training programmes. If engineering companies were more open about having the conversation about integrating family planning into career planning, retaining and developing women engineers will be a lot easier.
On the second point about the engineering culture not always being very favourable towards women, I think that this will change when we have more women engineers and scientists. As well as that, in the technology industry, I think that companies who have more females in the higher up positions at the company contribute greatly to creating a culture that is kind to females. So, I think the solution to this issue is to just create a bigger pipeline of more women getting involved in science, engineering and technology in the first place.
As I want to start my own robotics company, the subject of how to best attract, develop and retain women engineers and scientists will have a significant impact on me as an engineer in the 21st century. In order to make my company one where both females and males will work willingly, I intend to incorporate all my suggestions into the recruiting process of my company and ensure that women engineers who come to work for me will be encouraged to come up with a life and career plan to ensure they can have a family while also being a professional engineer. I have already begun developing the technology for my company and expect to launch in the next couple of years. It would be great fun to have other women engineers join me on the journey, so I hope more women step up to the challenge to be an engineer with me.
In conclusion, I think that if we focus our efforts on getting more females into engineering degrees in the first place through programs such as Robogals, then we will have a greater number of women engineers and scientists in general. Following that though, I think that companies need to understand women’s concerns and address them early on so that women can have the freedom to enjoy their engineering careers while also having the flexibility to choose to have a family.
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