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Female Engineers – Myths and Facts Explained

Published on Friday, 24 Jun 2016

Written by Ms Venus Tam from the Electrical Division of the HKIE

Engineering is conventionally considered as a male-dominated industry. Despite the fact that there has been an increase in the number of female engineering graduates over recent years, females still make up less than 20% of the members in the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE). One reason for this current imbalance in genders is often put down to the myths about the profession – Is it for men only? Is it a job mainly about fixing machines? Does it require a lot of physical strength? These are probably the most frequently asked questions when women decide whether to enter the industry. None of these myths are true – and this article will explain why engineering is in fact nowadays a women-friendly and rewarding profession.        

Is engineering “a male career”?

Teamwork is of paramount importance in modern engineering. It is a profession that embraces diversity, bringing talents from a mix of backgrounds to achieve the best results. An engineering project is regarded as a success only when it is completed safely with a balance between time, cost and quality. Other than excelling in mathematics and physics, a strong engineering team also requires creativity, skills in communication, team work, management and critical thinking. 

Women engineers can make an engineering team stronger. They are often more capable in matters of detail, and this quality is invaluable in design and testing. By approaching challenges differently, women often bring an alternative point of view when formulating project solutions, which facilitates the creation of innovative ideas. By utilising their intrinsic “softer” people and communication skills, women engineers can also be very effective in motivating team members and managing stakeholders. In fact, it is no longer rare for women with the above mentioned qualities to work in the perceived “male-career”. 

Is engineering mainly about fixing machines?

Being an engineer is much more than just fixing things. Although there are maintenance engineers who are primarily responsible for repairs, it is not the entire story of the profession. Modern engineering is all about improving the quality of life through designing, making and enhancing systems or processes. From small electronic circuits in mobile phones to ever-expanding power networks that supply electricity to the whole city, many of the systems around us have been carefully designed and engineered for safe, reliable and environmental-friendly operation. These would not have been possible without the continuous innovation and application of these opportunities by the engineers.      

Let’s take smart grid, a revolutionary power grid advancement that integrates both information and communication technologies (ICT), as an example. With smart grids implemented, new services can be delivered to the public while tackling the energy challenge in an economic, sustainable and socially responsible manner. Consumers are provided with more energy options and choices, such as participating in demand response events to reduce their consumption during a system’s critical peak for incentives. This in turn helps people make informed decisions when saving energy. The development of smart grids involves not only electrical engineers, but also engineers from other disciplines such as information technology and electronics, as it includes a range of tasks such as technical evaluation, site deployment, backend system development and customer engagement. All these tasks require a great variety of knowledge and skills. As women engineers can bring diversity to the team, there are plenty of opportunities for them to contribute. 

Does engineering require a lot of physical strength?        

Physical strength is definitely not essential for modern engineers. Although there are occasions when having strong arms can be useful, in this information age most of us spend our time working with computers on desks or in meetings. Other than simulations and computer aided design (CAD) work, even power system operations such as circuit switching, which had to be done manually onsite, can also be executed by a simple few clicks on computers nowadays. With advances in computing, control and automation, having excellent communication skills, strong motivation and proficient technical knowledge are probably more crucial than having substantial physical strength for modern engineers.     

Engineer is a profession for both genders

With the three myths exploded, modern engineering is indeed a profession that brings the best talents from both genders together, offers a wider range of career choices than you can ever imagine and does not require substantial physical strength as people conceived. According to a survey  covering about 300 women engineers in the UK, 98% of them found their jobs rewarding, of which 80% found this satisfaction came from delivering successful projects. If you are interested in improving people’s quality of life, longing for job satisfaction and enjoy teamwork, then engineering could be the career for you. 

The best way to find out more about engineering is to experience and learn from professional engineers. The HKIE Electrical Division conducts various activities including membership drive talks and career talks to educational institutions, as well as design competitions targeted at students of different ages. For more information on the HKIE Electrical Division and its activities, please visit here.

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