A couple of weeks back, on the 23rd June was the inaugural National Women in Engineering Day (NWED) here in the UK. This is a day organised by the Women in Engineering Society (WES) to celebrate their 95th anniversary and to promote women in engineering.
WES was founded in 1919 after the First World War to deal with the issues concerning continuing employment of women engineers who had contributed to the war effort. It faced opposition from government, the industry and unions across the country. It’s aim was:
To promote the study and practice of engineering among women; and, secondly to enable technical women to meet and to facilitate the exchange of ideas respecting the interests, training and employment of technical women and the publication and communication of information on such subjects.
Several branches across the UK were active, and the first issue of “The Woman Engineer” was published in December 1919. It seemed they faced many struggles until the Second World War when all of the sudden women were needed again, but at the end of that war in 1945 many of the prominent women were expected to go back into the role of wife and mother.
Today, women in engineering still face similar obstacles that the women of previous generations did. Yes, we have manged to enter the workforce and legislation against sexual discrimination exists in many countries. But today discrimination is subtle and covert, and a lot of the time women are left questioning whether they interpreted a situation correctly or not.
As part of celebrating NWED my office held an open panel debate about Women in Engineering which was attended, through online help, by 15 offices across the country. The panel consisted of senior women and men within the company talking about what it was like 10 years ago, what changes there have been, and what challenges we still face today. It was a great discussion and many brilliant points were made.
One that I would like to touch on in particular is communication. With governments and many companies today continually improving policies and terms and conditions for workers, it’s important to keep yourself up to date with what rights you have. Examples were made where managers had denied staff certain privileges because they didn’t know the law or the company policy on the matter. In other cases employees hadn’t asked for what they were entitled as they weren’t aware that they had a right to it in the first place.
This can be anything from maternity (and paternity) leave, to flexible working hours or how to raise complains about sexual harassment and what support is offered at work. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that staff are aware of any changes in terms and entitlements, but as employees we can also be proactive in keeping up to date with new legislation as well as company policy changes.
Another thing about communication, and an issue with these kinds of events is that I personally feel like, a lot of the time we’re preaching to the choir. The people attending these events (mostly women) are already aware of the struggles and difficulties that we face. How can we make sure that we educate those who’s minds have not yet been opened to these issues? That’s one of the biggest struggles for me, as many of those in power are just the ones who could use some more insight.