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Since 2014, International Women In Engineering Day has been highlighted on our calendars; the 23rd of July is the perfect opportunity to reflect, celebrate and learn about the profiles and achievements of female engineers worldwide.

More than once, I’ve heard people ask an interesting question: “Why should women in engineering get a special day when men don’t?”

There are a few reasons that could explain this. Firstly, there is still gender disparity today but it’s not always apparent – sometimes it’s hidden in plain sight. Secondly, it can promote role models who may encourage younger generations to pursue engineering in a male-dominated sector. And thirdly, celebrating women isn’t always in isolation. Often, conversations highlight the achievements and contributions of female engineers, while acknowledging the input of key stakeholders and the strengths of mixed-gender teams.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of International Women in Engineering Day, whereby the campaign celebrates the theme “Enhanced by Engineering”. Already, there are some great articles and initiatives highlighting reasons to fight discrimination in STEM disciplines. In this blog, I explore topics and ideas that I hope will continue to become more widely acknowledged.

Women strengthen the risk management process

When I first saw the ‘enhanced by engineering’ theme, I was curious to see what results would appear on the first page of Google. Remarkably, there was a repeated reference to ‘soft skills’ which are defined as general, transferable, or interpersonal traits that are not job specific but are essential for professional success. They include communication, teamwork, and adaptability. Many of the results also emphasised that these skills are a great way to improve or even maximise engineering success.

In industry, Deloitte has picked up on the strength women bring to the table. The leading accountancy firm reports that mixed-gender teams encounter greater differences in perspectives than male-only teams, attributing their natural tendency for people skills and big-picture thinking.

A research study cited in Springer found that a higher proportion of women in teams can result in better collaborative performance. Many women excel at decision-making and are often good communicators, integrating well into teams. Risk management benefits from a teamwork approach because it requires a comprehensive assessment of nuanced risk, safety in design and potential scenarios that may pose risk during engineering and in the users’ hands. Female ability to raise matters in a safe way minimises the risk of conflict or deeming matters insignificant, making them integral in enhancing the risk management process and contributing to product safety.

Risk management in specific sectors can further be enhanced by women in engineering. The MedTech industry is notorious for rigorous safety implementation. A study on ‘The Underrepresentation of Women in Engineering and Related Sciences’ found that women represent half of all medical procedures but not half of all engineering teams. It noted that society has come a long way to increasingly recognise the quality, talent and creativity that women can contribute to science and engineering solutions – something we hope will continue to be recognised and promoted.

Women add value to human factors and usability engineering

Did you know that despite making up more than half of the population, women occupy just 16.5% of engineering roles in the UK. Fortunately, this proportion is showing signs of increase, albeit gradually. Having women onboard with human factors engineering can benefit twofold.

Firstly, women in engineering can represent the voice of customer and needs of female users. Given the biological differences between men and women, it is likely the latter may handle or interact with a product differently. While formal research and usability studies provide nuanced insights, mixed-gender teams can balance general discussions.

Secondly, women’s tendency for soft skills can be beneficial in human factors. As a product design engineer, you need to be able to understand and consider the needs, preferences and behaviours of the target users. A key practice is conducting user research, incorporating usability engineering techniques such as observation in the field, interviews, focus groups, Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) and user testing – to name a few. The findings then need to be translated effectively into design requirements, specifications, and features that enhance the user experience of a device.

Human factors and usability is a skilled discipline with different considerations for different techniques. For example, without complementary interviews, it can be difficult to make sense of what is observed. However, it may be difficult for people to confidently or accurately communicate to the interviewer. Having soft skills can have strong impacts, as McKinsey & Co. supports – it can help build relationships, encourage open communication and create a safe space for users to share their honest thoughts. Whilst the success and capability of a human factors engineer is multi-factored, it is important to acknowledge the value that women can add to a team.

Women offer unique perspectives on innovation

Underpinned by human factors, women in engineering can play a pivotal role in driving innovation and successful design. Forbes has reported on the benefits of women in technology, highlighting that women are biologically wired to think differently and tend to anticipate differences in opinion and perspective. By bringing fresh perspectives and viewpoints, they can contribute to a more diverse and skilled workforce. Combined with their soft skills, this can encourage open conversations and promote creativity in problem-solving.

An inclusive and diverse work environment made up of mixed-gender teams can indirectly enhance innovation by attracting the best talent, creating an environment where knowledge, design suggestions and constructive critique are openly shared. This in turn will boost employee morale and reduce churn. Better yet, the inclusion of women in engineering extends to younger generations. Promoting women in engineering as role models can strongly influence how other female peers may perceive their own ability, confidence and belonging in STEM disciplines, in turn encouraging women across all generations on their innovation journey.

Solving a problem in a field committed to problem-solving

The engineering field has undoubtedly made advances to tackle gender disparity in recent times. We have seen first-hand, in society and at eg, the strengths of balanced mixed-gender teams, which is echoed by research and the experience of others.

This year’s theme “Enhanced by Engineering” beautifully summarises this – gender isn’t necessarily the determining factor in whether an engineering team succeeds. Conversely, it is their unique skillset, experience and real-world representation that can complement the design and engineering process.

From broader perspectives to greater collaboration, women should certainly be included and further made to feel included. In a profession committed to complex problem-solving, we eagerly await the next achievements and progress, both for and by women in engineering.

Here at eg, we are proud to promote mixed-gender teams and support women in engineering.

For more information on joining our team please visit our careers page or to chat with one of our team about your product design and development requirements, please do not hesitate to get in touch:

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