The Modern Women in Engineering: Inclusive or a Façade?
Written by Maansi Suri
Hailing from a family of female engineers, I have always loved science and more specifically have always dreamt of being an engineer. However, I noticed that most girls aren’t encouraged to dream big and the male engineer stereotype prevails. Clearly this is an issue that needs to be investigated and addressed.
Despite the significant progress that has been made in bridging the gap between men and women in the workplace, women are overlooked in the field of engineering. According to the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), globally only 13% of engineers are women, and more disquieting, female engineers are generally paid 10% less than men (SWE Research Update: Women in Engineering by the Numbers (Nov. 2019) – All Together, 2021).
Source: “Global Gender Gap Report 2020.” World Economic Forum, www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2020.pdf.
What does this say about us supposedly living in a progressive society? Are we truly being inclusive?
It is evident, however, that each country needs to step up. According to the graph above, NO country is achieving gender equality with a 50-50 participation of both genders. This is where one begins to ponder upon the possibility of the empowerment of women being just a façade.
I thus decided to do my part, and, in September 2020, I successfully organized a global “Women in Engineering (WiE)” webinar themed ‘inclusivity’ featuring 4 renowned female engineers as guest speakers – Dr. Theresa Ann Saxton-Fox, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Ms. Mariane Kurban, a Regional Solutions and Technology Director at Jacobs for Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA), Ms. Sally Barakeh, a Mechanical Engineer at Jacobs, and Ms. Sakhi Satkar, a Design Engineer at Lera Structural Consultants, Mumbai.
They shared their stories ranging from how they had been denied opportunities solely based on their gender, to how global experiences helped them gain perspective and further respect for women in engineering from around the world. With 62 attendees, this webinar not only provided the audience with valuable insight into the technical knowledge required to pursue engineering, but it also taught them the soft skills that would help them excel in this field.
Some notable guidance from the guest speakers at the WiE webinar:
“Don’t be afraid to ask for opportunities. Don’t be afraid to say yes to things that may scare you. If you love something and you want to do it, whether you’re a girl or not – don’t let anyone’s comments discourage you from doing that.”
~ Ms. Sally Barakeh, a Mechanical Engineer at Jacobs
So, let’s start small?
Statistically, 87% of the professional cluster of engineering is dominated by men, with only 13% of women working in this sector in UAE. The consistent effort of the citizens of UAE in making the voice of female engineers heard has initiated a paradigm shift.
The impact of small-scale initiatives is often underestimated. With almost half of the higher education students in UAE being women, we’re actually almost halfway there! (Inspiring and guiding the UAE’s young women into science and engineering – Khalifa University, 2021)
Almost a year ago, the Global Women’s Forum Dubai (GWFD) was conducted with other 3,000 attendees, themed “The Power of Influence” (Home – Global Womens Forum Dubai 2020, 2021). Additionally, the world’s largest professional organization aimed at improving technology and reaching out to audiences globally, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), has taken great strides in recognizing the achievements, leadership, and development of programs of females in engineering programs in the UAE Section!
Each year, IEEE UAE’s Women in Engineering Committee (WIEC) selects two of its outstanding members to receive the much-coveted “Chair’s Recognition Award” and/or the “Volunteer Recognition Award”. Currently, the IEEE UAE Section is working towards “building the technological infrastructure, to develop techno-electrical industry, and to improve the lifestyles of individuals” (as stated by Dr. Fatma Taher, IEEE UAE Section Chair) (IEEE Women in Engineering – IEEE UAE Section, 2021).
For the years 2015-2021, the National Strategy for Empowerment of Emirati Women in the UAE, launched by Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak (Chairwoman of the General Women’s Union) is targeted at ensuring gender equality across all fields in UAE from local start-ups to multinational companies, is gaining traction, further empowering aspiring female scientists and engineers! (National Strategy for Empowerment of Emirati Women – The Official Portal of the UAE Government, 2021)
It is indeed heartening to see that as of 2020, 56% of the UAE government graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are women (UAE and UAE, 2021).
Nonetheless, we have a long way to go! Let us all, female engineers, be sources of inspiration to each other, and reach for the moon (literally)!