Women in Engineering Day: making it in a male-dominated field
Only 12% of the UK’s engineering pool are women and globally, only two percent of all professional engineers are women of colour. Women in Engineering Day - this year on 23 June 2022 - raises awareness over the career opportunities available to girls in this industry and focuses on those women that enjoy successful careers in the sector, like Magda Abdelbasit Abbas.
Originally from Sudan, Magda is an Electronics Hardware Engineer/Embedded Systems Engineer at ByteSnap Design, an award-winning embedded system design and software development company. Here, Magda mainly creates circuit design for embedded products and also manages firmware for tests and updates.
One day, she hopes to create online resources on embedded systems in Arabic. Material that could be used as a starting point for students in Sudan or any other Arabic speaking country to introduce them to the hardware and software platforms used to build embedded devices.
Magda graduated with a BSc in Engineering from the University of Khartoum and has a doctorate in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Oxford. Here are her top five tips any aspiring woman in engineering should know:
Do your due diligence
Research what is necessary to pursue a career in engineering. From my understanding, a big reason for girls in the UK not following an engineering path is their misplaced belief that they are no good at maths, and the image of a “hard hat” associated with engineering. I would recommend exploring the broad range of engineering disciplines and careers to gain a better understanding of the type of opportunity that can be pursued, from chemical, civil, electrical to structural, mechanical and more, this is a broad field and the opportunities are endless.
Widen your skillset
Being a woman in engineering means that you may need to work harder than a male counterpart, so it’s important to have a wide skill set that allows you to adapt to changes in the industry. Keeping up to date with innovative technologies and learning new skills prepares you for future developments. For example, being a hardware engineer doesn’t mean that you don’t touch software. Having software skills is important to be a well-rounded engineer.
Explore resources set up for women in engineering
It is worth looking at some organisations and groups that are specifically setup to help women in engineering. Women Who Code (Womenwhocode.com) is a community of women learning programming. The Women in Engineering Society is a network that can help with mentoring and promotes the uptake of engineering among female students.
Contribute…open source is a good option
In many cases, universities have proprietary software packages available for students. However, to continue using these products after graduating, a license fee has to be paid. Therefore, build experience of alternatives that are more widely used in industry.
The number of female open source contributors is far lower than that of men. It doesn’t help that open source contributions from junior developers can be on a voluntary basis or unpaid. However, involvement with open source early on in one’s career, helps women to gain the requisite skills to take part in OSS, enable networking while establishing one’s profile in the community. Look at initiatives aimed at encouraging women in open source projects including the Debian Woman project; GNOME and KDE.
Don’t be put off by any misconceptions around engineering
Common ones are that it’s physically tough work or that it’s a rough environment. Engineering encompasses a wide range of disciplines that range from jobs like software engineering that are entirely computer based to petroleum engineering which might require field work in offshore locations.
In the UK, the percentage of female engineers is low considering how advanced the country in terms of gender equality policies. This situation is not likely to improve without action, particularly after the pandemic where female STEM students are reporting that it is affecting their future career prospects. Women in Engineering Day presents an opportunity to celebrate females in engineering while creating awareness amongst those who are considering a career in the industry.