Engineering a gender equal future

4 minutes

For Women’s History Month, we are honouring the women on our team and sharing their stories.

This year’s United Nations International Women’s Day theme was Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender equal future.

Renuka, a trained civil engineer with over 25 years’ experience in the industry reflects on how cracking the code relies on more girls entering STEM industries and enjoying their environment.

Technology removes physical barriers to education across cultures

This year’s theme is specifically focusing on “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.”

Education is critical to close the gap, but access to education has always been a challenge, especially in developing countries.

Schools and universities are making STEM learning environments more attractive and accessible for girls and young women through technological advancements.

In Sri Lanka, when I was younger, there were only two universities which offered engineering degrees. I attended the University of Peradeniya, and in my year level, there were only 19 girls studying engineering out of a cohort of 293 students.

If I was to ever stay late to study at the library—the primary resource of study materials, I had to consider taking a friend to escort me home. The boys in my class had no such concerns. Also, we had to be mindful of places we selected for internship and accommodation as the construction industry, in general, was very male-dominated and acceptance and respect for female engineers was not at the same level as today.

Which is why technology is unlocking safer opportunities for girls to participate in study and further removing a barrier. Girls are now able to research materials using the internet and connect with the curriculum digitally allowing for greater access to high quality education.

Creating more flexible work environments

Online learning and the rise of remote working has been a game changer for both educating girls but also women contributing to the workforce.

When I first started my role at Brightly (formerly Assetic, by Dude Solutions) in 2009, my children were six, four and two. Brightly was an early adopter of working from home and flexible working arrangements. When I had my young family, I was able to work from 7 AM-3 PM and was able to work from home one day or as required with encouragement from my boss and peers.

This flexibility was critical for me to participate fully within the workforce without sacrificing time with my family. We cannot ask mums to choose between a career and their families. By listening to women and understanding what they need, companies have a responsibility to offer flexible parental options to enable gender parity in participation and renumeration.

Furthermore, creating a workplace culture that supports flexible working is important to allow women to participate in the flexibility offered. Senior leaders of the business must walk the walk from a top-down approach to ensure it permeates company wide.

We need more role models

It is hard to achieve what you can’t see. According to Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) Australia's gender pay gap would narrow by a third if all industries and occupations achieved a 40:40:20 gender split. 40% women, 40% men and 20% any gender.

Currently, within the engineering field, only 11.2% are females, and while that is shifting, it requires a consistent effort to encourage girls to consider a career in STEM.

Removing unconscious bias and empowering women to actively participate in the workforce is a critical component to encouraging more women into STEM.

Having women in leadership positions is also part of the equation. The WGEA 2022 report found more women in key decision-making positions delivers better company performance, greater productivity and greater profitability.

We are changing but we must not lose momentum; Interestingly, the country to have the first female Prime Minister was Sri Lanka.

To create accessible opportunities for girls to study STEM and then pursue thriving careers within engineering, we must continue seeking gender parity. We need to acknowledge this is a collective responsibility and not just a ‘women’s problem.’ Achieving greater diversity in our workforce and specifically in STEM is everyone’s responsibility—it requires a top-down, bottom-up, sideways approach.