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Advantages of women engineers

15 April 2016

As someone already in engineering or a related field, you’re accustomed to working hard to get ahead and wearing many hats. In your career you may have earned job site tickets, been involved in dispute resolution with high-flying clients, project managed multi-million dollar builds to completion or negotiated with architects to ensure their vision meets planning and government requirements.

So what’s the next step for a seasoned engineer, or for a junior or mid-weight engineer struggling to distinguish themselves from peers when it comes to promotion or career planning?

And, what if you’re a woman?

A whole new world

Fewer than 10 years ago, when Western Australia was in the grip of the mining boom and engineering was the new black, engineering graduates could pretty much walk into any job they wanted. Megan Motto from Consult Australia, the peak body representing Australia’s engineering companies says "it's not as easy for graduates as it was a few years ago when up to eight companies were all vying for one graduate."

In an entirely new job climate, what sets these qualified individuals apart from their colleagues often falls to “intangibles” — things like the ability to network, inspire a multidisciplinary team towards a common goal, a kind of je ne sais quoi that some are born with. More recently, however, the focus has shifted to gender.

The gender imbalance in engineering, “is a wake-up call for work sites, they need to deal with the legacy issue of macho culture”, says Carroll Seron, Irvine Sociologist Professor at the University of California. Monoculture in any industry is bad for business. A 2004 study published in Economic Sciences found groups of diverse problem solvers (by gender, ethnicity and/or race) can outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers. also found that “Fortune 500 companies with at least three female directors have seen their return on invested capital increase by at least 66 per cent, return on sales increase by 42 per cent, and return on equity increase by at least 53 per cent.”

Global creative marketplace Etsy attracted 500 per cent more female engineers by “training junior women to be rockstars”. The effort and effect didn’t only change the dynamic of the existing culture, it completely changed the way the company was viewed by prospective hires as well — more senior engineers of both genders got wind of their progressive policies and started calling.

Women and engineering

There is real opportunity for both employers and employees by including more women among their engineering ranks. Mary Hackett, Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence 2015, and the newly appointed regional director of GE Oil and Gas, has spent her career working in a profession where men still outnumber women five to one. 

In a practical sense, it’s not a career for the faint-hearted, but it’s also not necessarily about conforming to, or bucking, gender stereotypes. Hackett has mentored more than 50 women to help them see barriers differently, to appreciate the unique skills they can bring to the job and to strive to further their careers in difficult fields. She says that “If you’re serious about a career you’ve got to craft it and make sure your ideas are heard. As a woman, being that there are few in the industry, you get noticed.”

Smart money

Engineering can also be incredibly lucrative. According to Professor Seron, for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) disciplines in general “the gender gap in earnings for women is significantly smaller, and essentially nil for younger cohorts in engineering.”

No mentor? No worries.

While some may be lucky to find themselves working with a mentor like Hackett, it’s true that for most female engineers, the biggest challenge in their career won’t be in entering the profession, but moving up within it. Hackett says there’s an unconscious bias that means managers of both genders “don’t see women as appropriate for the next promotion... You just need consciousness to reform that model.”

Support like Engineers Australia’s Women in Engineering National Committee and initiatives like the BHP Billiton/MCA Women in Engineering Scholarship are helping to elevate women’s representation in engineering. In order to really push for leadership positions, further education and qualifications shine bright.

Degree = Distinguished

Southern Cross University’s Online Master of Engineering Management course is the MBA for engineers — designed to prepare you to lead and innovate across any engineering discipline, no matter what your gender. Bolster your management engineering knowledge with core units Engineering for a Sustainable Future, Stakeholder Engagement and Strategic Infrastructure Asset Management. And supplement your general business skills with units like Entrepreneurship and Marketing, Organisational Behaviour and the highly relevant, Leading and Managing People. It’s a degree designed to elevate you within your current engineering discipline, and enable you to move across specialisations or into emerging boom areas (for example from mining to infrastructure).

Conceived with flexibility in mind, the Master of Engineering Management can be completed in as few as 16 months, part-time and 100% online. Most of our students are full-time working professionals balancing family commitments and study. So while the move from engineer to manager will take work, it won’t go unrecognised — much of what you study may also count towards your continuing professional development requirements with your relevant professional registering body.

To find out more speak to an enrolment advisor today by calling 1300 589 882.