“We really have all the necessary fundamentals to make great engineers.”
June 23 2015 will be National Women in Engineering Day. The engineering industry is renowned for having a substantially low percentage of women working within it (currently at only 6 per cent). The Women’s Engineering Society (WES) has set up the day to celebrate and raise awareness of women in the engineering industry. It’s vital to keep education going through to the younger generations to gain their interest from an early age and raise awareness of the issue.
Annmarie Nicholson has been a design engineer at Dyson for the past two and a half years. We spoke to her to hear how and why she chose a career in the engineering industry and why other women shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it.
What would you say is the main reason as to why women don’t work in engineering?
I think that girls are put off engineering at quite an early age. The common perception is that it’s a really hard, calculation-driven career. Lots of girls are naturally more imaginative and artistic, so that doesn’t sound appealing at all! But in reality, engineering can be really creative – it’s all about putting theory into practice and making things. If we were better at communicating the exciting reality of engineering, then I’m sure more girls would want to become engineers.
What was/is it about engineering that’s attracted you to the industry?
I have a real passion for art and design, but I also love problem-solving. Working as a design engineer at Dyson, I get to sketch out new product concepts and solutions – I’m always thinking about how things work. Later in the design process, I get to turn my sketches into visual and working prototypes which we use to communicate how the conceptualised product might feel to use. It’s the perfect blend of technical and creative skills that I always wanted from my career.
How have you encouraged other women to become engineers?
I volunteer with the James Dyson Foundation, Dyson’s charity. The Foundation tries to encourage all young people to consider a career in engineering, by sparking their passion for invention. It has lots of initiatives: supplying free educational resources for schools, giving bursaries and scholarships, and working with UK government to improve provision of engineering education. The Foundation also runs workshops in secondary schools, where they get the chance to make prototypes for their own inventions out of spare Dyson machine parts. I help with those workshops whenever I can – I’d like to think seeing a real-life, female engineer challenges the perception that engineering is just for boys.
- Are there particular qualities women have over men in the engineering industry?
Engineering revolves around problem-solving, and quite often that will mean you need to put your heads together in a team. Women tend to be good collaborators, and that’s really important. As I’ve already mentioned, women are naturally creative – but we are technically excellent, too. Year after year, girls outperform boys in their Maths and Science exams - so we really have all the necessary fundamentals to make great engineers.
What would be your top tip to a woman who wants to become an engineer but doesn’t really know where to start?
Firstly, do a lot of research. There are hundreds of different types of engineer, so you need to work out which job is the right fit for you. You could start with the James Dyson Foundation website; it’s full of useful videos and articles. If you want to be a design engineer like me, then you should consider a degree in Product or Industrial Design. You’re going to need a full portfolio when you look for a job, so make sure you record all your sketches, prototypes and 3D drawings.
The James Dyson Foundation helps students from primary education through to degree level to understand engineering from a more hands-on approach, giving them opportunities to learn what’s out there in the industry for them. By gaining the interest of students (both boys and girls) from a young age, there’s a higher chance of them taking up a career in the engineering industry. The Women’s Engineering Society works to inspire women of all ages to express an interest in engineering.
National Women in Engineering Day is sponsored by Airbus, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the IET.
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