Voice of RB First Women: Can we have it all?

Maybe gender stereotypes are a result of ‘nurture’ more than ‘nature’. Being a type that always wants to go against the norm, I always wanted to become an engineer.

I think women are just as capable as men. However, it may be that a lot of women start from a disadvantaged position in addition to the gender stereotypes and bias that can still pervade our culture wherever we live, particularly within the male dominated sectors such as engineering. According to the statistics on Women in Engineering compiled by the Women’s Engineering Society in February 2014, female engineers received salaries 19.7 per cent lower than that of their male colleagues. Female engineers were also responsible for less important roles in the industry. In addition, the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe (5.5 per cent only).

Interestingly, as quoted from Women on Boards, BIS, February 2011, “Companies with more women on their boards were found to outperform their rivals with a 42 per cent higher return in sales, 66 per cent higher return on invested capital and 53 per cent higher return on equity”.

As a female engineer working in this male dominated environment for more than a decade, and as a mother of two young children, I do not claim this is an easy job at all. Some of the challenges for me would be:

  • Frequent change of work locations. Today I may be working in London and tomorrow I can be in Birmingham or even Dublin;
  • Long working hours. When I was working as a site engineer for Holmesdale Tunnels Refurbishment Project back in 2006, we worked 12 hours per shift. Including travel time and shift handover works, each day would normally start at 5.30am and I would get home at around 9pm. Each month, there was an average of one week when I had to work the night shift 7pm to 7am. 
Apart from all that, as a woman you definitely have to work a lot harder to get recognition from your male colleagues and from your industry. However, at the same time, you are still required to plan enough quality time to manage your family’s everyday life, raise your children and never let them down, supervising their homework every night, being there for them at their school plays or baking their cake at school charity events, which trust me, occurs more frequently than you can ever imagine.

And when there is an opportunity for career advancement, we women have to put our family into the equation before making choices of whether to accept it or not. Men, generally, don’t.

The day after I came back to work from my maternity leave, my boss told me: “It is important you find the hook to hang your career”. I really struggled at the beginning of having children and coming back to work full time. I could be in the middle of an important meeting with VIP clients when the nursery would call to tell me to come and pick my son up immediately because he had had an accident. Other female colleagues have told me they do not consider having children at all as that would ruin their career prospects.

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