According to EngineeringUK, just 16.5% of those working in engineering today are women. It is a significant gender gap that highlights the importance of this year’s theme for International Women’s Day (IWD): #EmbracingEquity.
While equality refers to each individual or group of people being given the same resources or opportunities, equity recognises that every person has different circumstances and that they should be allocated the exact resources and opportunities they need to achieve an equal outcome. The latter helps us understand that realities such as the engineering gender gap stem from diverse lived experiences as well as deep-rooted disadvantages and biases.
Carrie-Ann Perkins has been with Integral UK for almost a decade. Having begun her time with the business cleaning fridges, she is now a project manager with senior responsibilities across key accounts. On this IWD, we hear from Carrie-Ann about her journey to understand the exciting opportunities the industry offers and see how her story might inspire other women to build a career in engineering.
You can’t be what you can’t see. Representation matters and it is improving. Women need to see more women in engineering roles. I’ve noticed a lot more women portraying engineers in the media, which is hugely positive. But I believe engineering as an industry is also misunderstood. If you say engineer to somebody, they automatically picture a man in overalls carrying tools. However, there are many facets to engineering, including project management, administration, finance, design, and technology. If more women, especially girls at school age, understood what the engineering industry really entails, they might be more inclined to try it. I started in an office role and worked my way from there. You need to show women that engineering isn’t scary or that complicated. If you take the mysticism away, people will see it for what it is and be encouraged to join.
My journey started by chance when I left my pub job. I wanted to transition to something with more manageable hours, so I signed up with an agency which helped me find a role where I cleaned fridges returned from hire. Then, one of the women in the office attached to the warehouse left and my manager asked if I knew how to use a computer. I worked my way from there, moving up to Leicester a few years ago to be a project coordinator before getting the promotion to project manager.
As project manager, I have lots of different responsibilities. I do everything from quoting, surveys, developing programmes, ordering materials, writing health and safety documents, ensuring that everything we need is either on-site or on its way to a site, invoicing, and more. It can be interesting and rewarding work. Although it might be a cliché, but no two days are ever the same.
If I do my job right, we make money. If I get it wrong, we lose money. When I’m on site, I’m dealing with many different stakeholders face to face, including store managers and employees, to find out what they need to do their best work, so it’s vital that our teams and I communicate well and build good relationships. The better those relationships are, the more likely it is that the customer will return. We’ve just had a situation recently where we did a good job in a customer’s store and a different store in the chain, but under a competitor’s remit, has asked us to quote for the same work on their site.
But often, I’m the only woman on site. I will go to a bathroom only to find that it’s locked and then need to hunt down the person with the key. Usually, you’ll find that the workers are using it as a store cupboard for cleaning products because no women have been in the part of the building.
I’m an organiser. Engineering is a broad field that needs all sorts of expertise, from practical engineering and computer skills to softer skills such as people management, communication and organisation. My role is all about ensuring everybody and everything is where it’s meant to be on time. Of course, it helps if you’re able to measure things, understand what a cabinet looks like and appreciate the business goal.
The future of engineering will be defined by technology. We’re already witnessing a massive shift to technology, particularly with automation and data-driven analytics. These days, an engineer’s job is more about knowing which buttons to push rather than which screwdriver to pick up – and it’s only going to continue in that direction, especially in the world of cooling technologies.
As a result, efforts to encourage more women into engineering, and more women into leadership roles within the sector, must appreciate that engineering is a broad and brilliant sector that is evolving and expanding all the time.