Q&A: Why is now the time for women to join the world of engineering?

International Women in Engineering Day, which falls on Wednesday 23rd June, raises the profile of women that work within engineering, celebrating the fantastic work they do, and highlighting the exciting career opportunities available.

We want to inspire and encourage more women to join the industry, so we chatted to female industry experts about how the world of engineering has changed, the opportunities for women and what you can expect if you follow in their footsteps. Find out what Ella Stokes (Group HR Manager for Vital Energi), Laura Rusholme MSc MCIOB (Head of Estates Projects for University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust), and Rachael Mills from SE2 consultancy, had to say!


Do you think now is a good time for women to join the engineering industry? And can you give some examples of why?

Ella – Never mind ‘should they join?’ and ‘is now the right time?’, this industry needs women, so my answer is (and always has been) yes, yes yes! We should always be open-minded and willing to enter into this challenging and diverse industry. There was always a hidden stigma that this is not our domain, but the world has changed and finally opened its eyes.  We have amazing skills, passion, confidence, empathy and ability to achieve the results required to succeed like anyone and everyone.
Laura - Now is a great time for women to join construction and engineering industries. You’ll find a diverse and creative environment, where no two days are the same. But there aren’t enough women considering roles in engineering, which is contributing to the overall skills shortage, so there isn’t a better time to join.
Rachael - My question is, when is it not a good time for women to join the engineering industry – or any other industry for that matter?  Women should see the opportunities in all sectors, depending on their personal skills and ambitions – and different sectors should make sure women are welcomed.  In some cases, this will mean a societal shift, but so much has already been achieved.  It requires women to stand up and follow their dreams – and for the door to be flung wide open to them.

What do you consider your biggest achievements in the industry?

Laura - As a chartered construction project manager, I have led a number of multi-disciplined projects. My biggest achievement has been as a client-side project manager delivering a combined heat and power with district heating facility project, of which Vital were our Contractor. I quickly built relationships with Vital and Trust colleagues, working collaboratively to successfully deliver this project.
Rachael - I’m a people person, so my biggest achievements is when there is collaboration, when we work together to create something bigger than the parts – when there’s a net sum gain.  The District Heating Divas is an example of that – it’s an informal networking group for women working in every aspect of heat networks.  It’s all done freely and is the most supportive group I’ve ever been involved with, especially while we’ve all variously been locked down over the last year or so.  We each use the groups as much or as little as we want to, for everything from making business contacts and asking technical questions, to mentoring and personal development.
Ella – My biggest achievement is the development and growth of the people around me, not only directly linked with me but within the business and industry as a whole. I came into this industry during my placement year at university, when Vital had less than 25 people - 19 years on, I’m still going strong with this amazing company which now has over 525 employees. I feel incredibly proud to be part of this growth and success. We don’t hold back; we push to make a difference, and I love the values and all of our desires to succeed!

What changes have you seen regarding women in engineering during your career?

Rachael - Well, there’s more of them for a start!  I’m always super impressed with the young, smart women I see joining the sector now.  They have purposefully chosen engineering and they’re setting about to make it work for them – and that sometimes means breaking boundaries and being outspoken.  Diversity can only be a good thing, regardless of the circumstances, and it’s something that engineering as a whole will benefit from.
Laura - The number of women in industry is still relatively low. Levelling the playing field is making sure that an environment is created where everyone feels comfortable and supported to take on any responsibility no matter your age, race or gender. Focussing on all workers with the same amount of respect. I have found, working with Vital on the CHP and DH project, that whilst equality, diversity and inclusion is something many organisations are having to put a lot of effort into cultivating, an inclusive and respectful attitude is innately Vital.

"When I started my career, it was very much a male dominated working environment. Although we’ve seen an increase in the number of women in our industry, we still need more! The thoughts and feelings of ‘women not being suitable’ is finally changing and that is a breath of fresh air. Vital, as well as other companies within the industry, are looking from grassroots upwards to encourage and entice woman into this world. We want to make a difference and are positively committed to growing and developing our own strong independent woman within all areas of this industry."

Ella Stokes, Group HR Manager - Vital Energi

Who and what has inspired you during your time in the industry?

Rachael - Unsurprisingly, other women!  I am inspired by passionate people.  People who want things to work well.  People who try to look at problems from a different angle and then do something about it.  People who are willing to share their knowledge, expertise and time.  There’s lots of them out there – I feel very lucky!
Laura - I have spent the majority of my career working in construction and estates industries, and what continues to inspire me is the camaraderie between project teams. I attribute this largely to the fact that projects are complex and multi-disciplined, which drives the need for the team to respect one another so that everyone feels comfortable to speak up and voice their opinion, allowing all the different disciplines, diverse experiences and backgrounds to effectively work together openly and honestly to deliver safely.
Ella – The people! I have experienced many different walks of life, each with their own personality and traits; some have been compatible to mine, others have been different. However, each and every one of them has inspired and influenced me, showing and teaching me the type of person I aspire to be. The strong characters, from my Board of Directors, team members and colleagues all have differing opinions, which in turn have enhanced my resilience and improved my communication skills to allow me to work coherently and effectively with all. I love the fact that regardless of the differing views and opinions, we all have the same goals… we want to succeed! To do this, I have learnt we have to all work together, to compromise and be trusting of others and their judgements in paramount.

What do you think the value of events like Women In Engineering are?

Laura - They remind women and society as a whole that a career in a typically male-dominated industry is absolutely a career that they can pursue and succeed in. It is a time to reflect and celebrate how far women have come and be thankful for being born in a generation where opportunities for women to accomplish and achieve what they want from life are the greatest they have ever been, whilst acknowledging challenges women still face.
Rachael - It puts women in the spotlight and gives organisations an opportunity to shine a spotlight on what they’re doing and what still needs to be done – and it gives women a voice.  However, it shouldn’t just be one week – we need this embedding 365 days of the year!
Ella – It is a positive promotion of a driven and inspiring message. It shows that no matter what your skillset, gender, race, there are opportunities for everyone. The stigma of this industry being a male-dominant world needs to be eradicated. This should not just occur at this time, the message should start being communicated to all from a young age, with organisations encouraging and promoting women into our industry all year round!

What advice would you give to young women considering a career in engineering?

Laura - Go for it, it is a rewarding career. Society is changing and it is apparent that younger generations expect a lot more from their leaders. Organisations are certainly aware of this and are driven to ensure they are engendering a just culture, which is inclusive for all. We’ve already come a long way, if you decide this is a career for you, you could be part of a journey where hopefully one day, future generations of women would see it as the social norm to consider a career in construction and engineering industries.
Rachael - Do something that you love – something that interests and maybe even excites you.  And if that’s engineering, then go for it!  There’s lots of great, supportive networks out there – find others in your tribe to swap stories and get support from.  Many people will happily give their time to help you on your journey – sometimes you just need to ask
Ella – Take the plunge… It will be worth it! I am not going to lie, like anything in life, there will always be difficult and trying times that we have to face but by joining this world, you will be making positive active steps in making a difference. The rewards, desire to achieve and development of skills showing the younger generations (including our daughters and nieces don’t forget) what they can accomplish, will be amazing and guess what, you will be a part of that!

Whatever stage of your career you’re at, if you’re interested in taking a step into the world of engineering, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us by emailing [email protected].