Women in Engineering #ilooklikeanEngineer #LikeaGirl

Julie MitchellOn International Women’s Day, it is worth reflecting on the role of women in engineering in Queensland.

The position of chief engineer is the most senior engineer in TMR, the largest employer of engineers in Queensland – and I am surrounded by successful, competent women. We need to showcase this and create role models for our younger engineers and engineers of the future.

Women represent less than 11% of the engineering workforce in Queensland, and even more disappointingly, less than 5% of Queensland’s RPEQs (Registered Professional Engineers Queensland) are women. By comparison, women make up nearly 50% of lawyers in Queensland.

These statistics need to drastically improve if we want to embrace the benefits true diversity in the workplace can offer. Diversity is not a matter of equality but an economic necessity for Australia’s future.

At the Department of Transport and Main Roads, we recognise there are several challenges underpinning this problem.

We know that we are experiencing exceptionally low percentages of school students studying the natural engineering feeder subjects – physics and advanced mathematics – in senior high school (14% and 10% respectively).

These statistics are even lower for girls studying maths and science – they represent about a quarter of the overall rate of participation.

Statistics are showing us that only 60% of qualified engineers actually work in engineering roles.

This would indicate we have a 40% attrition rate throughout an engineer’s career post graduating university.

Only about 15% of engineering graduates are women and the relative proportion that work in engineering roles is even lower that that of men. We have to do better.

Women are less likely to apply for high level positions for a range of reasons, which may include work-life balance considerations, their own self-perceptions of competence and sometimes self confidence. I know I myself have dwelled on each of these at stages in my career as a woman in engineering.

To start to address these problems TMR has developed a strategy that targets each of these areas, allowing us to retain and promote women, while ensuring a strong feed of young women into the industry into the future.

These initiatives include:

  • You can’t be what you can’t see. Profiling and showcasing senior women in TMR, improving awareness of the different paths careers can take toward the top.
  • Giving women in middle level roles the opportunity and encouragement to act up in higher level roles in the hope that they will apply for them in merit-based processes.
  • Working with engineering peak bodies to build greater community awareness of engineering career options for women.
  • Investigating the Athena Swan protocol, which is used by the universities to address gender bias in science areas.
  • Working with universities to identify opportunities to support and encourage women through their engineering studies.
  • Sponsorship of initiatives to improve STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) involvement at high school, such as the science and engineering challenge and TELG (The Engineering Link Group)
  • Developing information products to support career guidance through schools and highlighting engineering as a career choice for women.
  • Sending engineers into the schools to promote engineering.

Julie Mitchell
Chief Engineer