International Women in Engineering Day 2021– Recognizing a Problem & Daring to be Part of the Solution
Today, 23rd June is International Women in Engineering Day. Gender equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace are an ongoing challenge, especially within the Engineering, Manufacturing and Innovation sectors which are more male-dominated. This year's International Women in Engineering day is celebrating ‘Engineering Heroes’, celebrating the amazing work that women engineers around the world are doing to respond to the pandemic but also to support lives and livelihoods every day – who recognize a problem, then dare to be part of the solution.
ASTUTE 2020+ introduces one of our newest recruits to the team, Lavanya Balasubramanian. Lavanya is a Robotics graduate from the University of Sheffield and joined the ASTUTE 2020+ team during lockdown as a Project Assistant. Here, Lavanya talks about women in engineering and the resilience the industry has shown over the last 18 months.
What do you enjoy about being an engineer?
The best thing about being an engineer is knowing what you do for a living is actively changing the world around you from saving the environment to creating more jobs. It is also exciting as no two days are the same. There are a lot of challenges and learning involved but it is equally rewarding.
Why is it important to celebrate women in engineering?
Growing up there were not many female engineers around me whose experiences I could draw from, whose success I could be inspired by. The lack of female role models has often made me question if I had a place in this field in the long run. But during the last few years of my life, which were crucial for my engineering career, I have met some wonderful female engineers who have had a strong influence in shaping my thought process and have inspired me in countless ways. Celebrating these women by amplifying their voices would result in many more women being motivated by them. It shows the younger female generations that they too can reach those places and become leaders in their respective fields.
Is there enough being done to encourage women in engineering?
There are certainly a lot of initiatives to try and bridge the gender gap in engineering. One such thing is the British Council ‘Women in STEM’ scholarship which enabled me to pursue my Master’s in the UK by sponsoring my tuition fees. The opportunity allowed me to explore my field as well as inspire and encourage more women to step into engineering. I also see traditional workplace environments changing to be more inclusive and supportive. Employers incorporating flexible hours have given a chance for women with children to prove their potential on the same scale as their male counterparts. But there are some major hurdles to overcome in terms of sustaining the female workforce in the long run and reducing female attrition in higher positions. Employers and educational institutions should focus on actively encouraging and guiding women towards leadership positions. This would, in turn, accelerate the process of bringing more women into engineering. There is still a long way to go before the levels balance out.
What is your opinion on the way engineering and manufacturing have stepped up during the pandemic?
During such unprecedented times when the health care workers have been stretched thin, engineers and manufacturers have stepped up to support them significantly with a sense of shared purpose. Initiatives such as the Ventilator Challenge UK brought together the entire community, including those who weren’t explicitly known for designing or developing medical supplies. Manufacturing companies invested in new technologies and production facilities to meet the high demand for medical components. The engineering and manufacturing field have proved their potential to innovate and adapt at trying times as well as saved lives. Members of the ASTUTE 2020+ team were actively involved in the CoronaVent – a newly designed ventilator that could be built quickly from local parts. This unique collaboration was between consultant anesthetists from Swansea University Medical School, Assistive Technologies Innovation Centre (ATiC) at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, and Swansea University’s Healthcare Technology Centre. This fast-moving development was a real team effort –doctors, engineers, designers and industry partners demonstrating the importance of collaboration and the benefits of good working relationships and ideas that it can bring.
As a result of the pandemic, do you think it will encourage more women into engineering?
The pandemic has created uncertainties in various labour markets which has, in turn, made a lot of women incline towards securing stable STEM careers. However, with the lockdowns, many women engineers have spent more time than usual on household and family commitments, bringing more career-related challenges than ever. Some may have considered putting their career on pause but also made the younger generation of inspiring female engineers feel discouraged from stepping into something as challenging as engineering. So, I think the pandemic has reminded us to make reforms with caution as they could be a ‘make or break’ choice for gender disparity in engineering. I hope that a large majority of young people believe engineering has had an important role to play in fighting elements of the pandemic now and for future security if it ever happens again.
How have you found supporting the Welsh manufacturing industry during these uncertain times?
Starting a new job remotely during lockdown has been strange, but with the support of the team and weekly virtual meetings, I have just got on with it. We work with the manufacturing sector across Wales, so adapting to new ways of communicating and figuring out research requirements without physically visiting companies’ manufacturing facilities has been a challenge but holding meetings remotely did provide effective time management for both ASTUTE 2020+ and the companies. The team have continued to support new and existing businesses, even those businesses who looked at modifying production to develop solutions to support the fight against COVID-19. I think the pandemic has made manufacturing stronger. Businesses have realised that they need to be adaptable, more efficient, adopt digital technologies, address supply chain issues, all whilst modifying manufacturing operations due to social distancing and reduced workforces.
ASTUTE 2020+ can support manufacturing companies across a variety of sectors, such as aerospace, automotive, energy generation, oil and gas, medical devices, electronics, foods, etc., stimulating growth by applying advanced engineering technologies to manufacturing challenges driving cutting-edge research and innovation. ASTUTE 2020+ collaborations inspire manufacturing companies to improve and streamline their manufacturing processes, manufactured products and supply chain, generating sustainable, higher-value goods and services and bringing them to a global market.
The ASTUTE 2020+ operation has been part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government and the participating Higher Education Institutions.