Our Women and Non-Binary People in Engineering (WNBIE) Forum
In June last year the Directors of Engenuiti asked how I thought we should acknowledge International Women in Engineering Day (IWED). I had no idea. We agreed that a last minute social medial post felt tokenistic and often does little more than tick a box, only for the issues women in engineering face to be forgotten about until the following year. We decided instead, to let the 23rd of June pass without any formal acknowledgement and let the day became our catalyst to ask ourselves what IWED actually means to us.
What issues do women still face in the industry? Is Engenuiti as progressive as we’d like? And, how do we go about making positive change? The first step was to set up a workshop with the women in our team to discuss these issues. One glaringly obvious fact was that though there were eight of us, half were graduates and none of us held a senior role. So, whilst we were proud that so many of our recent graduates are women, we were very conscious that our leadership team comprised six men and we had no senior female or non-binary engineers.
After two hours of thoughts, ideas and some venting, it became clear that there were three main areas to focus on: getting women and girls into engineering, keeping women in engineering (ensuring women reach those more senior and influential positions) and improving the everyday experience of women in the industry. By end of the session, we had a long list of actions for ourselves, the Directors and Engenuiti as a practice.
By workshop number two Johanna had joined us as our Practice Manager. Her wealth of experience in the industry gave valuable insight, and a good understanding of the right questions to ask. For example, what made us chose Engenuiti? Many of us had a similar answer, being interviewed by a female engineer (Rachel, Associate Director at the time) stood out against a sea of companies that appeared to be male dominated. First impressions and a company’s values count, so seeing diversity in a team from the beginning is extremely important. We decided that while we no longer had a female Associate Director, future graduate interviews should be carried out by a director and female Engineer, and other candidates should meet more of the team than just the male Directors.
Another useful question posed: how did we get into engineering? Almost all of us said it was the encouragement by a teacher or a visit/ talk/ interaction with someone in the industry, that made us realise that a career in engineering was an option. Realising the importance of these moments for girls in school, we resolved to create more of these by collaborating with local schools to provide talks on engineering and a career in STEM.
We also discussed the everyday experience of women in engineering and agreed that while overt sexism has largely disappeared, there are still many subtle things which imply we are second to, our male counterparts. We could all point to specific examples, such as emails addressed ‘Hi Gents, …’, the hard-to-quantify need to prove yourself before being listened to or taken seriously, and the automatic reference to clients/contractors/consultants as ‘he’ or ‘him’, which although small, highlight bias that can be hard to see but is felt by the majority of women.
We recognise that it is often difficult to call someone out or know how to respond and, in this respect, being an ally to women in the industry is extremely valuable. After our workshop we reported back to the wider team and presented various ways someone can be a good ally and discussed situations where people have seen good and bad examples of allyship. A great example is a male colleague who, when his female colleague is interrupted in meetings says to her ‘sorry, you were talking about X before you were interrupted’. This brings the conversation back to her, highlights that she was interrupted and gives her space to speak.
There are many websites with tips on how to be a good ally. Some of our favourites are below:
We have just had our third quarterly workshop and it is great to see the progress we are making: Our recruitment goals have been achieved, we are attending more diversity and women in engineering events, we are having important discussions with the wider team reading bias and allyship, and are forming connections with schools in order to give talks. I look forward to this next quarter and seeing this forum develop.
by Kath Hannigan