20 June 2023
We thought International Women in Engineering Day was the perfect time to speak with one of our very own female engineers, Jacqueline. As an experienced Infrastructure Cabling Engineer, we were keen to hear about some of Jackie’s own experiences in this traditionally male-dominated field.
‘Falling into’ her niche
Like many of us, Jackie fell into her career. She’d never considered working in engineering, and in fact was accepted into the Royal Navy and worked as a veterinary nurse before making her mark as an engineer.
“I had my son at eighteen,” Jacqueline told us. “So, to purchase my own property, I went to work at a local factory offering continental shifts for really good money.” But when earmarked for redundancy, Jackie decided to arm herself with various computer skills courses through her local college. She added, “It became obvious to achieve a long-lasting career you needed to be good with your hands and understand the fundamentals of computers.”
Wanting more than classroom scenarios, Jackie went away for eight weeks to complete a more intensive, hands-on course. It led to immediate contract work which introduced her to data cabling: internal work, external work, out-buildings, even telecom ducts in ditches and climbing telecoms poles in all elements! Jackie had found her niche and obtained her Infrastructure Cabling Engineer, Fibre and Copper qualifications.
“I thoroughly love my job and couldn’t see me doing anything else”, Jackie shared “Although I could never have predicted this as my future.”
She’s now been set up as her own limited company since 2007.
Women make up just 16.5% of all engineers. Those figures are on the increase having stood at just 10.5% in 2010. But these disproportions still make things tough for women in the space.
Jackie explained “Every new contract is challenging in this male-dominated field. Unless you’ve worked with a company previously, you’re on a mission to prove yourself once again.” She puts this down to companies wanting to tick the equality box by employing a female engineer. “But I turn this into a positive – I can do my job just as well as any male. I gain frequent employment on merit, not my gender.”
Jackie has noticed discrimination goes beyond just gender though. “I was recently declined a contract through what I’ve determined as ageism,” she shared. “Normally I omit my date of birth because it’s not mandatory, but in this instance, I couldn’t proceed until I’d filled in the box. The next day I received an email stating they’d found another engineer to replace me. They ignored my phone calls.” Later that day Jackie received a call from another agency regarding the same work. They didn’t ask about her age. She accepted and started straight away.
Jackie expands, “Imagine how I felt the following week when the agency that’d replaced me turned up onsite and I was introduced to them by the Project Manager as the engineer who saved the day and turned the job around. Karma is a wonderful thing!”
Bridging the gender gap
Jacqueline describes how female engineers are much more commonplace elsewhere: “In Europe, every other engineer is female. Why not in the UK?”
Although the number of women in engineering in the UK is on the rise, figures still fall short of those in other countries. For example, as of 2021, 50% of engineers were female in Latvia and Norway. In 2022, though, women accounted for just 14.5% of individuals in the field in Britain.
Issues started in school for Jackie. She told us “My father was a builder and frequently had an architect at our house who’d roll out blueprints – I was fascinated by these drawings. I was about to choose my O’Level subjects and spoke to my form teacher (who also happened to be the school’s Tech Drawing teacher) and told him I wanted to take Tech Drawing. He went to find out if that was possible – it wasn’t a lesson offered to girls at the time. It turned out I’d need to swap cookery lessons to do Tech Drawing and when my form tutor approached the cookery teacher about it, she outright refused.”
Jackie was deeply upset about the decision. “I can’t to this day understand what right a teacher had to decide my subject choices and dictate my future.”
Although the uptake is improving, currently, just 35% of the UK’s higher education students studying towards a STEM degree are female. Jackie adds, “Schools are not the only means of learning, but they still need to do more to promote female engineers…British engineers are still surprised by my presence onsite and often take time to speak to me, ask what I’m doing and comment on how unusual it is to see a female engineer on site. There are never derogatory remarks – but in contrast, European engineers I meet don’t bat an eyelid – in their world I’m not unusual.”
Jackie explains how more can be done onsite too. “When it comes to facilities, men are traditionally given a drying room where they can leave their work clothes overnight – they don’t need to take them home to dry for the next day. There’s nothing like this for women. It’s basic facilities that could be made more readily available. I feel we still need to chase things like this with construction companies. It’s 2023, not 1923!”
Yet Jackie feels strongly that women bring a lot to the engineering space. “We bring many basic strengths. I find men more competitive, wanting to get the job done quickly. Women on the other hand are often more quality conscious. For me, issues aren’t obstacles – just a challenge – it may take a little longer to complete the work but it’s about attention to detail.”
She concludes, “Plus, women are super hard working. We have to work hard to prove we have as much right to work in engineering as men!”
Advice for other female engineers
For women interested in an engineering career, Jackie asks, “What’s stopping you? Providing you don’t mind getting dirty, wearing PPE, and getting messy hair and fingernails, what’s not to love?”
Jackie explains how you may occasionally come across some men who don’t accept you can do the job just as well, if not better, than them, but stresses how the money and rewards are great. “It mystifies me why more women aren’t drawn to the industry. With AI taking over the world, women should be asking themselves, ‘what roles can’t be done by AI?’ The answer? Engineering jobs!”
What the future holds
When we asked Jacqueline about her future plans, she told us “The day I wake up and don’t want to go to work anymore is the day I quit. I thoroughly love my job and can’t ever foresee doing anything else.”
Now running entire projects, Jacqueline enjoys seeing the nature of the work from all levels, including managers and the client. She also loves passing on her skills. “I really enjoy teaching new apprentices in this role. And I think they often find it easier being taught by a woman. Women have patience and this puts people at ease…However, I’m still waiting for my first female apprentice!”
Reflecting on her experiences, Jackie concludes “I think women have made great strides in becoming independent and working alongside men compared to what our grandmothers had to endure. I bet they could have never imagined the advances we’ve made.”
This International Women in Engineering Day, we want to celebrate all of the female engineers making a difference in the industry. We hope your hard work and dedication continues to inspire future generations of engineers. Happy International Women in Engineering Day!
Are you a female engineer looking for your next role? Or an employer looking for diverse engineering talent? Why not drop us a line to see how we could help?