Engineering the future for generations to come
The engineering industry is undergoing a transformative shift toward diversity and equality, and inspiring from the front is Dragica Kostic-Perovic, Chief Engineer of Automotive at Ricardo, a global engineering company.
Throughout her career, Dragica has been instrumental in fostering a love for engineering among aspiring professionals and highlighting the wealth of opportunities this lifelong profession affords them.
“[Engineering] will see you through all the stages of your life. From when you’re a young professional entering the workforce … it’ll take you through to the next stage of your life … and then it will see you through to retirement.”
The pathway to success
Dragica's interest in engineering began during her formative years when her passion for academic and STEM subjects, particularly physics, powered her desire to apply her knowledge to real-world challenges. Her curiosity and hands-on approach laid the foundation for a promising engineering career.
However, it was the gentle encouragement from her father, who nurtured her interest in problem-solving, that played a pivotal role in solidifying her decision to pursue engineering as a lifelong profession.
"My father encouraged me in a very subtle way. Although he was not an engineer, he would be the one who would buy me books on solving problems in physics or electrical engineering. He hinted this would be a good lifelong profession [for me]. I can now say that he was right."
From the moment she studied engineering at university, throughout her PhD journey, and into her role in electrical machine design and development, Dragica knew she was on a path that aligned with her interests and aspirations.
The triumph of gender diversity
Dragica's engineering journey was enriched by a supportive and passionate high school peer group. Being surrounded by like-minded individuals interested in STEM subjects fostered healthy competition and provided invaluable support to Dragica. This environment not only strengthened her commitment to engineering, but it also showcased the power of an inclusive STEM community.
While the engineering profession is making strides in advancing gender diversity, Dragica acknowledges that more can be done to create an inclusive environment. Initiatives encouraging young girls to pursue engineering careers play a vital role in addressing gender disparities in the industry.
"As engineers, we are all equal and that’s how it should be. But until the balance [in ratios] is achieved, the initiatives that help women as professionals are essential to allow them to stay and progress in the profession. They should be aimed at breaking down social network bonds that exist within organisations and current leadership circles, and at building trust in the leadership styles that females can bring to leadership roles."
Tackling global challenges
The role of engineers, especially in the automotive industry, is crucial in combating climate change and promoting sustainability, and Dragica and her team are at the forefront of developing solutions, such as hybrid and electric vehicles, that reduce energy consumption and toxic emissions.
“We solve complex issues to help achieve a safer and more sustainable world. Our role is not just important, it’s essential. It is a hands-on role, and it is very exciting. Every single solution that we provide is geared towards net zero. [Our] innovation must be focused on achieving a better future for our children.”
Celebrating achievements and raising awareness
Among Dragica's proudest moments was winning the prestigious WICE award (Women in Construction and Engineering) for 'Best Woman Electrical and Mechanical Engineer.'
This achievement not only acknowledged her dedication and expertise but also provided her with a platform to raise awareness about gender diversity in the industry.
"Participating in the nomination is a unique experience. Throughout the process, I had the opportunity to meet hundreds of women engineers under one roof. I was able to exchange workplace, professional, and private views about a wide range of issues that we're all facing within our own industries.
"That unique experience can only be replicated at an event aimed at women and awarding women. It allowed me to better understand how and what it feels like for male colleagues who get to have this at every professional event – just because of the unbalanced numbers that we seem to have in our profession. So, winning this award was a great honour. It also provided me with the grounds to speak up for issues that females face in the engineering profession and to raise the profile of Ricardo as an employer who looks after and respects its female engineers."
Creating equal opportunities
To ensure equal opportunities for women in engineering leadership roles, new policies need to be established. Dragica believes that successful initiatives should work across a range of engineering industries, rather than being limited to individual companies. They need to keep females motivated throughout their careers and address any factors that may deter them from staying in the profession.
"It’s essential that more females enter the industry. But once they’re in the profession, it is very important to allow them to stay there, and not be put off by constantly being the minority within their team – because that is hard. We can apply an engineering approach to find a solution; to understand the cause of the problem, break it down, and then once the problem is understood, it is easier to find a solution."
Seeing yourself in engineering
The presence of relatable and diverse representation in engineering plays a significant role in inspiring new cohorts of female engineers.
By showcasing the achievements and contributions women make in the profession, aspiring individuals can recognise that engineering is a viable and fulfilling career option for anyone, regardless of gender.
"There are two aspects to role models and representation in engineering. One is convincing the women and girls, and the other is convincing the parents. By showcasing female role models or representation, we are sending a message to young girls that it is possible to be a female engineer. It is also explaining to parents what engineering is, and what engineers do daily – because it is a bit of a mystery unless you know engineering. Parents play a vital role in a child’s choice of profession, so explaining it to them is a necessary starting point."
Embracing future engineers
The future of engineering holds immense promise, especially with the influx of younger engineers who are eager to learn and contribute.
It is working with engineers of the future that Dragica particularly enjoys, supporting and nurturing them to reach their full potential as both engineers and leaders. The fresh perspectives and enthusiasm they bring to the field inspire her to continue her efforts in shaping the future of engineering.
Embracing a fulfilling career
As both a mother and a successful engineer, Dragica exemplifies how engineering can provide a fulfilling and balanced life that accommodates personal and professional aspirations.
The journey of women in engineering is one of perseverance, dedication, and achievement. Female engineers are at the forefront of building bridges to equality, solving complex global challenges, and shaping a more sustainable world for generations to come.
With the right encouragement, initiatives, and representation, more young women can be inspired to pursue careers in engineering and contribute their individual perspectives and talents to create a diverse and innovative engineering landscape – enriching it with their unique skills, vision, and passion.