In celebration of International Women’s Day, Chevening Scholars have been sharing the advice they wish they’d known when they younger about calling out gender bias, discrimination, and stereotyping.
What’s it like to be a woman in engineering?
Chevening Alumna Bettina Schreck is an engineer currently working in the Office of Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women at the UN Industrial Development Organization. Here she gives an account of what it’s like being a woman in the engineering sector.
What is it like to be a woman in engineering? Does your gender mean you have a different experience to your male counterparts?
My path to becoming an engineer has been about developing a problem-solving mindset, turning a natural curiosity into ingenuity. This is why engineers love technology, understanding, developing and implementing it.
I have spent the last 20 years working in the energy and climate change sector, in private, public and development organizations. For most of that time, I found that women have shifted from a tokenistic role, being the only woman in the room, to having gradually more representation.
For many years, I followed the mainstream belief that technology is gender-neutral. However, technology is not gender-neutral. When a person assesses a problem, identifies a solution and implements a technology, they may be applying a gender bias. The solution might serve men better than women or it might fail to cater to needs outside the perceived norm. It could even be dangerous. Did you know that women are significantly more likely to be seriously injured or die in a car accident than men, because the majority of crash test dummies are designed to mimic the physique of men and their seating position?
That’s why it is important to ensure that diverse voices and perspectives inform the development of new technology. Institutions, organisations and firms need to adopt measures to increase gender parity in their workforce.
What is your current job position and how has this encouraged you to stay in the engineering sector?
I’ve recently been appointed to the gender equality and empowerment of women unit within the organisation I have worked with for over 12 years. In these last months I have discovered how little I previously understood about gender issues.
I now recognize how engineers can shape technologies and relevant policies to be gender-responsive. I now work to find solutions in a multidimensional way, addressing the technological needs and their social effects.
Personally, in 2023 I plan to return to the development of projects that equip women in taking on less traditional roles and professions. I hope we can create opportunities for more women to participate in green jobs, giving them the ability to participate equally across sectors.
Finally, what advice would you give to women who want to pursue a career in engineering?
For women in my generation, which are those that have lost count of the greys in their hair, let’s step down from the pedestal of being among the few. Let’s create more space for other women, embrace women’s networks and focus on developing products and services that address the needs of women. Let’s support each other in mobilising more funding for female entrepreneurs and overcoming unconscious biases. Gender equality is not just a women’s issue; it is also the responsibility of men to challenge perceptions and the social norms.
For younger women who want to pursue a career in science or engineering, I hope that you will have to jump through fewer hoops than previous generations. For all young engineers who are learning how to develop a problem solving mindset, I hope you are trained with a holistic view which is gender responsive.
Find out how a degree at Queen Mary, University of London helped Chevening Alum Pareemala Mauree champion the rights of vulnerable people in Mauritius.
Mashiat Mahbub Chowdhury and Sayan Muhammad Rafi, two Chevening alumni from Bangladesh, are now making an impact in the development sector of their home country. Either by providing mechanization for agricultural activities or improving women’s knowledge and abilities in business, their work empowers rural Bangladeshi communities to come out of poverty and challenge social and cultural norms.