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Engineering a great future for young Australian women

Editorial
article image Lisa Whitehead is Operations Manager at Honeywell in Melbourne.

Despite offering excellent career prospects, engineering remains one of the most imbalanced professions in Australia when it comes to the gender mix, with women only making up 9.6 percent of the total number of engineers nationally.

But in a time when the disparity in wages between men and women working in similar roles remains an issue across a variety of professions, engineering offers attractive salaries above the national average, regardless of gender.

So why do so few women see it as a viable career option?

In my experience, one of the key reasons is that the industry at large suffers from a perception issue. Because it is a male dominated profession, engineering is sometimes perceived as being inaccessible to women. This impacts the number of women choosing subjects at school and uni, those that would provide a gateway for them into the profession.

As one of the country’s largest employers of engineers, Honeywell is determined to address this issue and dispel the notion that engineering is a male preserve, through various initiatives including our upcoming 2014 Engineering Summer School, running this month and organised in partnership with Engineers Australia.

The program is designed to provide insight into the diverse range of career options available to both sexes in the engineering profession, so students can then choose the most appropriate subjects and courses that will help them achieve their desired role in the profession.

With lectures and demonstrations at a number of Sydney universities, as well as industry site visits throughout the week, students gain exposure to various engineering disciplines, helping them to make more informed decisions about a future in the industry.

Most students know that discussing options with their teachers and parents is an important part of career planning, as their advice can often play a determining role. As an addition to this, giving students the chance to interact with both industry and academia can help to inspire the next generation of engineers.

But while encouraging students to study these courses is important, what are companies also doing to ensure women have a place within their workforce?

For Honeywell, strong female representation within our engineering team, and company as a whole, is very important to us. That’s why we created the Women’s Information Network (WIN) at Honeywell, which serves as a catalyst to provide encouragement, empowerment and professional development to all of our female employees.

As head of our WIN team for Australia and New Zealand, part of my remit is to provide career support to our female engineers. This includes ensuring they are aware of, and have full access to the same opportunities for career development as their male counterparts.

A shining example of how a nurturing and supportive environment benefits our female engineers is Anh Trung, one of our Sydney based engineers.

Anh studied mechatronic engineering at the University of Sydney and joined Honeywell in 2009, the year after she graduated, where she continues to work as an engineer in our product development division.

While there were only five girls in Anh’s intake of 40 students, most of them were around the top of their class, which illustrates the value of attracting more talented women to the industry.

The key to Anh successfully graduating as an engineer is that she never at any stage considered her gender as an obstacle, and certainly had no intention of letting it get in the way of studying something that she was interested in.

Anh’s role at Honeywell offers a great deal of variety. As well as working in the product development team, she also works in software development, managing technical projects, collaborating with fellow Honeywell engineers and engineers from other companies, and writing product specifications and product manuals.

Anh and her other female engineering colleagues are a positive example of the work Honeywell has done so far, but we and the industry at large have a long way to go.

A recent Australian study analysed year 12 participation in science and maths classes, finding that despite there being 38,000 more year 12 students in 2012 than in 1992 (an increase of 16 percent), the proportion of those students choosing chemistry, physics, biology and advanced mathematics has decreased dramatically over the same period.

The Australian National Engineering Taskforce (ANET) says this has led to a drastic shortfall in the amount of suitable graduates being produced annually in Australia, numbering around 6000, when the industry requires a graduate intake of around twice that figure every year. The enrolment rate for women in engineering degree courses in Australia has remained consistently low since the early 1990s, hovering around the 14 percent mark.

While the benefits of joining the engineering industry are apparent for women (and men for that matter) – industry demand outstripping supply, higher wages, increased job security, etc., there are also considerable benefits for the industry in having more women involved in it.

Women engineers can bring different perspectives to the profession, enabling project teams to more readily come up with creative solutions that better address society’s needs as a whole, as well as the particular needs of women. After all, women comprise over 50 percent of Australia’s population!

By bringing more female engineers on board, companies can instantly gain a better understanding of their customers’ needs and compete more effectively in the marketplace. That is something that we are always striving for, as should the industry as a whole.

Honeywell Building Solutions

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