"To the optimist, the glass is half full. To the pessimist, the glass is half empty. To the engineer, the glass is twice big as it needs to be."
I am a Civil Engineer. What does that mean? Civil Engineering is, literally, engineering for the people.
It is the design and construction of infrastructure i.e. our water and wastewater networks, transport, bridges, buildings and energy supply. Infrastructure facilitates health, growth and prosperity of nations. It is a very rewarding career choice, if you know what it is in the first place!
I was asked by the Institution of Civil Engineers to contribute to this blog post, as today is National Women in Engineering Day. While I don't subscribe to promoting women in engineering only, I do empathise with the cause. Engineering stereotypes are everywhere and we need to tackle that head on. People are often surprised when I am introduced to them as a Civil Engineer. "But you don't look like one?" I was told recently..... where should I begin!
So what qualities make a great civil engineer? I would say curiosity, motivation to help others and to challenge the norms, proactive problem solving, and seeing the bigger picture and how we can enable it happen. It is also about learning from mistakes, constantly striving to improve and innovate - and aiding others in their own development by sharing knowledge and best practice. Note - none of these are qualities are gender specific.
We need to increase awareness of the myriad of career opportunities in engineering and the diversity of people who can contribute to project teams, men and women of all cultures and backgrounds.
We share a common goal of making the world a better place. We fulfil an essential societal need for infrastructure. We save lives. If young women, or indeed young persons, saw that side, I guarantee they would be queuing up to join us.
There has been a lot of debate recently on "positive discrimination" to get more gender balance in engineering companies, preferentially promoting women up the ranks. I am opposed. We are problem solvers. We need to address the underlying issue, not sticky tape it with a meaningless numbers game that will only serve to cause animosity in the workplace.
If women represent only 10 to 20% of the class cohort studying engineering at university, it will hopefully follow through to the workplace and board level. If we get 50:50 at school it will work its way up naturally. I am pro engaging with other established bodies just to boost interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) for all from a young age, similar to "Tomorrow's Engineers".
Very few children decide to be engineers when they are six, we just need to keep them interested in STEM until they are 16 when they can choose engineering if they wish.
Careers guidance and education from the top-down is key. Although it can be personally rewarding, on a large scale, there is little point in us striving to meet hundreds of children and influence them in one off events, if their parents and teachers continue to tell them engineering is for boys, is too hard, is manual labour only or for those who aren't academically gifted. There are so many avenues into engineering at all levels.
So consider this your call to arms, my fellow Engineers. Tell your friends, family, local schools, guides, scouts, what you do and how your job makes a difference. Contribute at school open days and career events, give back and you will be pleasantly surprised how much children respond to your enthusiasm for construction. It is Lego for grownups. It is fun. It makes the world a better place.
Be optimistic, the glass may be "twice as full as it needs to be" for now as we are experiencing a skills shortage due to a lack of awareness. If we inspire the next generation to join us in this exciting field, the glass will reach capacity and we will make better solutions together.
To borrow a quote from the late Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple: "the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."