The impact of encouraging words
Ann Massey, President, Environment & Infrastructure
When I was very young, I would ask my mother, “What can I do when I grow up?” She would answer with the same response every time: “You can do or be whatever you want.” I wish I could say that in those moments I decided that I wanted to be a scientist or engineer, which would make for a good story, but I actually wanted to be a dancer or singer. Unfortunately for me, I had no skills whatsoever in either area. However, my mother’s words of encouragement had a lasting impact on me. It’s interesting the impact someone’s words can have on another person’s life, isn’t it? I truly believed – “you can do or be whatever you want.”
So, on International Women in Engineering Day allow me to review with you the following: in the US, only 14% of the engineering workforce is made up of women according to the Congressional Joint Economic Committee. In the UK, it is just 9% according to the Institution of Engineering and Technology. It’s hard to believe that such a small percentage of our granddaughters, daughters, sisters and even our mothers decided against engineering as a career. Why is that? Is it a lack of inspiration or the absence of role models that prevent the young women of yesterday and today from pursuing a career in engineering? An even more challenging question for the women who do major in engineering: why do we lose them mid-career? Why do so many women leave the workplace never to return to their field of study?
Women have made great contributions to the field of engineering. Did you know that one of the most travelled highways in the US was designed by Marilyn Jorgenson Reece, who studied engineering because she liked mathematics? She became the first female to earn a civil engineer license in California and designed the San Diego-Santa Monica freeway interchange. The movie Hidden Figures celebrated Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who were part of NASA’s team of human computers who calculated by hand the complex equations that allowed safe human travel to space. If you ever binge watch your favorite show on Netflix, you can thank electrical engineer Anne Aaron, who leads the team of software engineers that enables members to watch streaming with the best possible quality.
Women offer valuable diversity of thought and perspective that is essential to our field, and we need to do more to motivate, cultivate and inspire young women to get excited about pursuing a career in engineering. As professionals, we can take the time to encourage and mentor young women by listening and working with them to help identify opportunities and career paths suitable to their needs.
The opportunities for women in engineering are both numerous and diverse with technical, project management and business development career paths. The training and discipline that comes with an engineering degree supports life-long professional growth and flexibility, allowing a women’s career to transform over time. Because engineers are keenly adaptive, as personal and professional needs evolve, opportunities continually present themselves, sometimes where you would never have thought to look, providing for lifelong sustainable employment. As a woman managing a large engineering consulting firm, here are some of the lessons that I learned and would like to pass along to anyone considering a career in engineering:
- Find a strong mentor to help you capitalise on your strengths, invest in yourself and improve your skills.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks.
- Surround yourself with people who bring value to your team and contribute to the organisation’s objectives.
- Ask for flexibility to accommodate lifestyle changes.
- Have fun and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the opportunities that come your way.
If you have a passion for science and engineering, check out the new STEM resources page. You’ll find interesting materials and fun activities to engage students in STEM topics that will educate and inspire, enhance awareness, and help build our collective future.
From encouraging women in the engineering industry to grow their careers to engaging our youth in STEM subjects, we all benefit from supporting and celebrating women in engineering.
Meet the blogger
As President of our Environment & Infrastructure business, Ann Massey leads a high-performance team delivering profitable engineering, consulting and project management services through a customer-focused culture. She has 30+ years of experience in project, programme, operations and business development in the engineering, construction and environmental markets. Ann began her career as a project manager and progressed through key operations and business development leadership roles, including serving as President of the engineering and consulting, and construction businesses that became a part of the Amec Foster Wheeler family of companies six years ago.