How can we encourage more women to follow a career in engineering?

On International Women's Day I ask where are all the women engineers? Why women, despite high levels of academic achievement, are avoiding the field of engineering

Today is International Women’s Day, a day on which we not only focus on the struggle for equality, but also celebrate great women and their achievements around the globe; women like Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Mother Theresa and many more. These women have inspired me to aim high and remain committed to my goal no matter what the obstacles, but it’s not just women in internationally recognized high profile positions who are important. Today the role of women in the workforce is a major driver for the growth and development of economies and societies in every country, from the shop floor to the executive board. This year’s International Women’s Day is focused on making sure women have access to training and technology so that they can be a part of the global economy. But when you look at the trends for women graduates, even in seemingly progressive countries like the US, the number of women graduating in engineering and technology are low, despite the high level of achievement among those women who chose to study these subjects. So why is that?

I think the reason it’s difficult to find and attract women into the engineering field is partly the perception that it is a male dominated area – with long hours of work, issues with work life balance, few facilities like childcare, or opportunities for maternity leave. But I am happy to see that these are increasingly becoming issues of the past, and progressive companies including ABB have come a long way by making that extra effort to create an environment that encourages gender diversity. We still have some ways to go but a beginning has been made.

When I was a student I had always been inclined towards subjects like maths and physics and so opting for electrical engineering was a natural choice for me. I was fiercely determined to pursue a serious career that would allow me to be independent and to make my own choices in life. I am happy to see that more and more women are now opting for engineering and making it to the top 5 percent of the graduates in technology – companies ignore this talent pool at their peril.

After graduating with an electric and electronic engineering degree, I set out with the arrogance of youth and the idea that the world was mine to conquer. Within a couple of weeks I was rudely brought back to reality. Many of the firms that invited me for interview politely explained that, while all was well with my scores and resume, they did not recruit women engineers. I am not sure what prompted them to call me for an interview in the first place!!!! Interestingly only around 3.5 percent of women engineers find employment in mainstream engineering jobs in India – a fact that CNBC explored last year in a program for TV18 entitled ‘What Women Really Want” in which I had the opportunity to represent ABB and discuss the myth that women are not serious about their careers.

Even 3 decades ago ABB was progressive enough to make me a job offer – while also clearly informing me that I would be a minority. I realized how much of a minority when I first joined the ABB factory in Vadodara. But I must admit that since then I have been extremely fortunate. ABB has provided me with a level playing field – no gender discrimination whatsoever, providing equal opportunities for male and female employees alike.

Career-wise I have been fortunate. I started off as a design engineer for distribution relays  and I then moved through various roles like Operations and Business Management, in a variety of business lines. Since last year I have been heading the local business unit of Network Management.

To allow more women to reach their potential attitudes have to change, both at work and at home. At work, flexible working hours and the provision of childcare are obvious initiatives that will help encourage women in the workplace. But at home the traditional roles of men and women must change too. Men will have to share the domestic load. I have been able to fulfill my professional aspirations only because of the strong support of my family – my husband, my in-laws and my son. Having an extended family made it possible for me to feel extremely comfortable leaving my little son in the care of my in-laws, especially since my job involved a lot of travelling. I think as attitudes change organizations will be better able to take full advantage of the diverse talent pool available, which will be to their benefit.

How can ABB help encourage more women into engineering? Share your thoughts, experiences and opinions.



Categories and Tags
About the author

Rekha Subramaniam

I am the head of the Network Management business unit in India
Comment on this article