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Encouraging women into engineering careers

Topcon Ireland recently sponsored the ‘Student of the Year’ category at the Plant and Civil Engineer Awards – which was won by Ciara McAuley. We caught up with Ciara to hear her thoughts on how the sector can encourage more females to consider engineering careers, as well as her personal experiences of working in engineering and why it’s the perfect career for her.

It’s no secret that there is a gender imbalance in the engineering profession, with negative stereotypes conjuring images of demanding manual tasks, long hours and male-dominated working environments. As a result, the sentiment remains that careers in engineering are better suited to men than women, making it difficult to tackle the gender imbalance and attract women into the industry.

That said, it’s not all doom and gloom. In recent years, there has been surge in the number of females entering the engineering profession and, from my personal experience, roughly a third of the students within my university class are female – a massive increase compared to the numbers of female engineering students five years ago. With more females beginning to consider engineering as a viable career option, it is crucial that large companies like Topcon Ireland continue to do all they can to support them, both entering and working in the industry.

Why engineering?

As someone with a background in farming, I’ve always preferred work that requires a hands-on approach and throughout school, I pursued my interest in STEM subjects. As part of my secondary school work experience, I spent a week on-site, working with engineers on the A6 road, analysing the construction drawings and interacting with the team. This experience, coupled with seeing my older brother’s enthusiasm and passion for his role as a civil engineer, convinced me that my future career also lay within engineering.

My route into engineering

When it comes to engineering careers, they are often portrayed as one singular career rather than broken down into separate mechanical, civil and chemical engineering disciplines. Yet, this breakdown is very important as each discipline is distinct and often suited to different types of people with different strengths. At school and college, civil engineering was highlighted as a career option but the concept of a civil engineer’s day-to-day role was not explained in great depth. The application process for university courses was the same as any other course, though, with open days and brochures available for anyone who wanted further information.

At university, I had the opportunity to do a placement year in the industry, during which I worked on the A6 project again. Each day brings new challenges on engineering projects and communication is essential but, for me, it’s overseeing the process of bringing 2D drawing to life that is fascinating.

Encouraging other female engineers

I’m fortunate that I’ve had a very positive experience as a female working in a male-dominated industry, and have received zero discrimination in the workplace. I understand that not all women are so fortunate however, from my personal experience, I’d encourage all girls to consider a career in engineering – it’s very achievable and rewarding.

To tackle the gender bias in the industry, societal changes need to be implemented from a young age, to encourage more girls to pursue careers in this field. It’s crucial that both primary and secondary schools encourage girls to study STEM subjects if they are to consider engineering professions, and to normalise female participation in the sector. A site visit, or a female engineer providing talks to pupils in school would be an excellent way to encourage them, and to educate them around the skills they’d need to pursue the career.

Looking to the future, as number of females in engineering increases, it would be great to see more women in director and managerial roles setting an example to the younger generation of females starting their careers. Large companies, like Topcon Ireland, who sponsored the Student of the Year Award at the Plant and Civil Engineer Awards, also play a huge role in supporting women in the industry, working with industry bodies and encouraging females into the sector.

For more information about Topcon Ireland, visit: www.topconpositioning.com/ie.