Reflecting on my size 5 site boots
The theme of this year’s International Women in Engineering Day, 2023 is ‘make safety seen’, which has got me thinking about my site boots. I realised that every female summer intern and work experience student who has passed through our office has at one point or another tried on, if not borrowed, my site boots. Which got me thinking, what would these women have done if I were not here? Would they have chanced going to site, hoping that the site team stocked boots small enough? Would they have had to buy some site boots last minute, keeping their fingers crossed that they would be delivered on time? Perhaps, they might’ve borrowed some bigger boots from any of the men in the company and layered many thick socks! On reflection, I realised that I, even as an engineer so early in my career, have played a part in making the industry a more welcoming and inclusive space for future female engineers, much like the women who have made me feel more welcomed every day.
It is often said that visualising yourself in the position you aspire to be in is one of the best ways to keep yourself motivated, but this can be hard to do if all you see when you look up is a room full people who look nothing like you. I am fortunate to work in an office where I am surrounded by and work closely with women in various stages of their career, and in various positions across the company. This may seem like a small deal - after all, an engineer in a leadership position will have the same responsibilities regardless of gender - but the difference it makes to someone like me is immeasurable.
I can look around the room and see that not only is it possible for a woman to be in higher positions in the company, but also that they are respected and have a space for them. These women don’t go out of their way to fit in with their male counterparts which is amazing to see. It gives me the confidence to be who I am, and I am sure that confidence boost extends to everyone in the company.
I know that these women have faced sexism in the industry to get to where they are. Whilst overt sexism has largely disappeared, we all still have experiences that make us pause. Often in these situations we end up second guessing if we are being too sensitive, or if that’s really what happened. It’s in these moments that having another female engineer to talk to makes a world of difference. Talking it through with someone who has had these experiences helps not to trivialise these important moments. That support and understanding is critical to holding others accountable and for advocating for ourselves when something isn’t right.
The reassurance and support these women provide is a form of safety for me, just as much as my PPE. It may not protect me from physical harm in my career, but just seeing female leadership is a reminder everyday that this is a safe and welcoming place for anyone and everyone.
By Manisha Swaminathan