Engineering is a great choice for girls

Gugu Moyo is a quality and planning engineer at British UV water disinfection specialist Hanovia. On National Women in Engineering Day she reflects on the challenges and opportunities of a profession where only 6% of professional engineers are women.

Like many teenagers I considered many career options. Growing up in Zimbabwe, the challenges facing girls wanting to go into engineering were much the same as in the UK, with widespread misunderstanding about what engineers do. The image of spending the day in a boiler suit, covered in grease and wielding a wrench is hard to shift, despite the fact that in my career my tools are typically computers, software and statistics.

I considered other possible careers using my abilities with maths and science, such as medicine and pharmacy, but decided to stick to my guns with engineering and I have found that, in the UK, people judge you by your ability as an engineer, not on your gender.

I came to the UK in 2007 to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Greenwich, followed by a Masters in Mechanical Manufacturing and Engineering. During both qualifications there was significant practical experience in secondments to companies. During my first degree I undertook a ‘Year in Industry’ with Npower CoGen and during my Masters was seconded to lighting specialists Heathfield and Company.

These experiences showed me what working life is really like made me realise how important work experience is – and how more girls might come into engineering if they could see engineering at first hand while still at school. It gave me a real insight into what to expect in an engineering career after university, and the skills I learned have constantly come into play.

I would advise any girls considering GSCE and ‘A’ Level choices to consider engineering very carefully. If you can do some work experience in an engineering environment it will enable you to see for yourself that there are lots of silly myths about what engineers do. I would also say don’t be influenced by what your friends are choosing. Your future is your own, so pick subjects you enjoy and if that leads to engineering, give it a try. I have certainly found engineering a great career so far.

My present job involves quality assurance and internal process improvement, driven from statistical monitoring. It’s as far from the boiler suit and grease image as you can possibly get. In many ways it’s more like being an engineering detective, looking at evidence and making important decisions based on that evidence.

I hope more girls will take an engineering career more seriously and I also hope more companies will start offering work experience to younger people – and to girls in particular. All sizes of companies can help with this, ensuring that pupils at school understand more about engineering and that there are more experienced graduates out there when it comes to recruitment. I know that some companies are wary of putting resource into this type of activity, but with experienced partners like the charity Engineering Development Trust, who run a number of schemes, the complexity is less than might be imagined.

Providing work experience is a great investment in the future of the engineering sector where we must ensure that the number of women in engineering careers increases many times over to ensure that the industry has the skills it needs in the future.