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Breaking the glass ceiling: women in engineering

Published by , Editorial Assistant
World Cement,

Modern society – and its ability to face technological change, while also combining classic thought with modernity, and coexistence with advancement – leaves no alternative but to build on a foundation of gender, social, and culture diversity. In a globalised world, every profession or occupation is interconnected with technology; it is not news that we need more engineers, scientists, and technologists. In order to achieve our goals and develop these professions, we need to be more inclusive and strongly involve women. That is our challenge.

While society has progressed from the days in which women like Marie Curie, innovators in their field, were considered exceptional, there is still a long way to go in the field of engineering. I believe there are still not enough female role models to inspire new generations to follow a technical professional path: it is still not easy to publicly identify successful female engineers or scientists.

It is a challenge faced from childhood, when ‘softer’’ subjects are increasingly preferred to engineering or the sciences. In some regions, these subjects are simply seen as not ‘socially suitable for girls and women.

Another obstacle in the fight for equality is parenthood where traditional stereotypes see women at home caring for the children and men at work. This is fair on neither the mother or the father: we should support a legal framework that allows both men and women to play an active part in family life – especially during the first years of parenthood – without it putting parents at a professional disadvantage.

In many countries there are different agencies, laws and national and international organisations responsible for regulating and ensuring equality among citizens, regardless of economic, social, employment status, or sexual preferences. Regulatory changes are thus slow and bureaucratic, but change is possible. In recent decades, men and women have succeeded in minimising the gap that existed between them and encouraging behaviours of reciprocal respect.

Diversity is sometimes perceived as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the differences between genders can function as a source of intellectual stimulation within a group, allowing the generation of more innovative solutions and better decision-making. However it can also be a source of conflict and division, harming the productivity and satisfaction of the work force. This is particularly true in organisations that operate ‘positive discrimination’ policies.

The leaders of these diverse teams should propose spaces of free thought, where members can discuss these differences, converting it into a competitive advantage, providing the group with the greatest variety of resources and vision, and the opportunity to achieve the objectives in a more profitable way.

In any case, companies must modernise in terms of infrastructure to be able to employ women in a productive way. Spaces for breastfeeding, adequate sanitary facilities, and the provision of clothing and industrial safety elements suitable for women, are some points to take into account to encourage the retention of these women in the professional field. Also, the balance between family, personal, and work life should be taken into consideration.

Women also bring unique skills and vision to a role. In harder industries, when the work is monotonous, detailed, and highly structured, the vision of women can help alleviate tensions in terms of interpersonal relationships, with their capacity for empathy, multitasking, and macro vision.

For modern women, technical and complementary training including leadership skills, management, and teamwork are becoming more attractive areas. The possibility of growing and developing within the profession is a very valuable asset. Often it is perceived that there is a glass ceiling that cannot be broken, and that the positions of middle and high management are almost inaccessible for women. These positions must be open to merit, technical abilities, and leadership skills, not dependent on gender.

The word engineer has its origin in the Latin word ingenium, which refers to machines or mechanical artifacts, as well as an innate and natural disposition to invent, create, and design. So, any person with the vocation to innovate, create, design or shape their vision to solve common and everyday problems, can be an engineer, regardless of their gender.

Women are able to perform any task regardless of the traditional stereotypes and stigmas; it is up to us, as a current society, to eliminate them. If we train, accompany and encourage women, who want to continue to increase their knowledge and enhance their skills, promoting and recognising their development, we will be able to fulfill our main objective: a diverse, balanced, and equitable world, sustainable for the next generation.

About the author

Lucia Pía Torres is Programme Manager for engineering at SINERGEIA – ESCO, specialising in energy efficiency and renewable energies in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She also has experience in project management, production, operation, and maintenance in various industries and international companies, including oil and gas, nuclear, food and beverage, energy, IT, etc. Torres has also volunteered as an IEEE board member, distinguished lecturer, and women in engineering and young professionals chair for Argentina.

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Cement news 2018