A perspective of women in the engineering sector: Q & A with Civil Engineering student Lottie Billson
We’ve been lucky enough to pick the brains of Civil Engineering student Lottie Billson, who is in her 4th year at University of Liverpool.
She’s shared her thoughts with us about why it is so valuable to have women – the gender minority – in the engineering sector.
Lottie’s thoughts have shown that it is largely the stereotypes attached to the industry which holds back girls from studying engineering, rather than lack of interest.
Thank you so much for speaking to us, Lottie! To kick things off, we’d like to know why you decided to study engineering?
- I wanted to be a part of an industry that has such a large influence on global sustainability, especially considering the global climate crisis. I want to help work towards a more sustainable future with renewable energies, more resilient cities and innovative technologies. The ability to work in different countries is also something that attracted me to engineering to combine work with travel.
How do you feel about being a gender minority in engineering?
- Within consulting in the office, I don’t find being the gender minority intimidating. However, with contracting work onsite I can see how it could feel nerve racking at times being the gender minority. Although sometimes being the gender minority can be a little intimidating, overall it makes me feel empowered and proud to be representing women in the industry. I have often found, from observing and listening to others that the presence of women can change the atmosphere on site which can be either very positive or can leave women feeling stereotyped. However, in the office I feel as though the gender gap isn’t noticed as much and it can often be a positive aspect of the industry.
Do you think males and females in the engineering sector work differently?
- Mostly, no. Although there are general differences between men and women in the way they can respond to situations sometimes. From a personal experience I think women tend to be more level-headed and conscious in conflict.
What can workplaces do to make roles more inclusive for women?
- Especially on site, the site office can be made more women-friendly by having changing rooms to change out of PPE, having a designated women’s toilet rather than a general one and keeping the facilities clean. In the office, I think incorporating more social clubs like sports clubs, interest clubs etc. Definitely they can have provisions in place for women if they want to have children, for example some companies offer schemes for helping with childcare costs or having well paid maternity/paternity leave.
Do you have any role models in the engineering world?
- No particularly well-known role models, but I would consider my boss from my previous placement as a role model to me due to his knowledge and kind nature. Along with a female engineer I worked with during my placement who enhanced her career by hosting talks in front of large crowds, winning awards for women in engineering and being involved with STEM activities.
Do you think engineering as a profession has stereotypes attached?
- Yes definitely, when I was in school, I didn’t have an interest in engineering as I didn’t realise all the different types e.g. civil, mechanical, aerospace.
Why do you think it is important to have women in the engineering profession?
- I think having women in the profession brings a different perspective to the profession which everyone can benefit from. Also, from the perspective of inspiring the next generation of female engineers. I think it is important to have role models within the industry to inspire more women to join. Women tend to approach problems from a different angle to men which can benefit projects and form a more inclusive atmosphere.
Are there any engineering projects (past or present) which you think look interesting and have caught your eye?
- The Milau Viaduct in France is an iconic bridge that used really innovative technology to edge out the bridge deck.
- HS2 is a really controversial one that I have worked on which I think is highly misunderstood amongst the public, so it was interesting to work on a project that combines so many different sectors of engineering e.g. environmental, rail, highways, bridges, structures.
From speaking with Lottie, it is clear to see how important it is to have diversity in the engineering industry, and to encourage those which feel that, as a female, engineering isn’t a career they can pursue.
We’ve also learnt that workplaces hold a role in making engineering sites more inclusive for women, and that challenging stereotypes should start from a young age and never stop!