This year Saturday 23 June is International Women in Engineering Day.
Shining a spotlight on the amazing career opportunities within the sector is especially important in the UK where just 10% of practicing engineers are women - the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe.
To help celebrate the achievements of outstanding women engineers everywhere we caught up with one of our own. Rebecca Jones, a senior engineer with our London Design Team, shares her experiences.
What is your background and what made you think about a career in engineering?
My background is perhaps not the most typical for an engineer. I was originally a transport planner, having graduated from Cardiff University with a BSc in Human Geography and City Planning in 2009.
After university I chose to focus on transport, because it is such an intrinsic part of everyday life, and I have always felt that working within such an area would really help me to make a difference. With this in mind, I began my career working in behaviour change at a local authority, but when I saw an opportunity open up at Sustrans I jumped at the chance to move into cycle scheme delivery.
Tell us about your experiences at Sustrans
When I first joined Sustrans in 2012 the London office was still relatively small, so although I was primarily in a project management role I also had the opportunity to be involved in a wide variety of projects and got a flavour for the work my engineering colleagues were doing on a day to day basis.
It was through this that I realised I most enjoyed the more technical side of scheme delivery, and I began to work towards developing my skills and knowledge in this area.
Sustrans was really supportive of this, and enabled me to move into an engineering role by providing training through the Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE), RoSPA and through accreditation with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). I joined the design team in 2014 as an engineer and I’ve not looked back since.
What does your job entail?
My job is pretty varied – on any day I might be working on a design for a new scheme, undertaking data analysis, exploring a new route on my bike, going on a site visit or meeting with a local authority.
It can be challenging at times, but there are few things as satisfying as seeing a scheme you have designed being built - it makes it all worthwhile.
And what are your thoughts on women in engineering – an industry which is pretty male-dominated?
My experience as a woman in engineering has been really positive at Sustrans. I am part of a really strong team that fosters a supportive environment within which I feel like I can express any concerns or float any ideas without worry.
I feel like I have a strong position and a strong voice, which has built my confidence and enabled me to develop. I am acutely aware this is not every woman’s experience and I do think there is much to be done in the industry to improve this.
Why aren’t there more women in engineering and what needs to happen for that to change?
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how we can get more women to choose engineering as a career but I believe starting early is key. The more girls who are shown that women just like them are doing a wide range of jobs, the more likely they are to consider a wider range of careers.
I was lucky enough to have a role model in my grandmother, who was also an engineer, and I would like to see the next generation of women engineers be inspired in the same way.
That’s how I’ll be spending International Women in Engineering Day - visiting high schools, talking about my experiences and encouraging girls to think about a career in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Maths) industries.
If you are also a woman in engineering then I would encourage you to do the same – let’s redress the balance.