Encouraging more women into engineering
To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, we look at inclusion in the workplace and interview one female role model about her experiences.
Within the industry, females account for only 12.5% of those in engineering jobs. Workforce numbers in construction are even lower – at just 4.7% in 2021. One woman breaking the mould is Deborah Aderonmu, a construction site manager at a data centre substation for Morrison Energy, who we placed in the role. We talk about her career, what it takes to shine in the industry and how it can better support women.
How did you get where you are today?
At university, I managed to get a few summer placements at one of the UK’s top construction firms, Balfour Beatty. I then worked in the design office and onsite. My experience onsite was much better and that's how decided to go down the construction site path.
Did you always dream of working in engineering?
Initially, I wanted to be a doctor. Engineering was my ‘insurance’. But I like houses and the idea of building them, so I thought civil engineering sounded good and that’s how I got into it. Of course, I learnt that engineering is also about infrastructure. But I guess it chose me, rather than I chose it.
Was the gender imbalance off-putting when you first started out?
I wasn’t aware of it before my degree, but then found only five in 100 students on the course were women. As I developed in the industry, I realised it was very male dominated. But I was up for the challenge and ever since then, being in construction and seeing other women in construction, is inspiring. For me, it’s about trying to raise awareness for the younger generations and encouraging more females into the sector.
How vital is it for women to see themselves reflected in senior roles like yours?
I’m very big on empowering women and I hope being a woman in engineering, and a woman of colour, encourages people. It’s really important to me because I know the challenges I've faced onsite too. In my earlier days, I never saw any females, but now you see at least one or two onsite. So there is some progression, but the industry still has a lot of work to do.
Have you faced any bumps along the way?
Definitely. A big challenge onsite is a lot the older generations, who still have the mindset that women aren't supposed to be there. At times, you have to be a bit bolder and more confident because some people can undermine you and make you feel you're not capable or don’t know what you're talking about.
What more can be done to encourage females into the industry, particularly construction?
It’s about closing that gap around mindsets and also changing the perception of construction in wider society. I’ve been in the industry for almost 10 years and have now seen women working on tunnel jobs, as slingers and as banksmen. When I see this, it inspires me, but it’s important we continue raising awareness that engineering is an industry that’s open to women. We need to create an environment that really caters for us and makes it the norm to see women driving plant, for example. These roles shouldn’t be associated with gender.
Small tweaks here and there would help too, such as separate female toilets onsite. Networking and support groups would also be useful. I’m not aware of any in construction, or they’re not widely advertised. I follow some Facebook groups but haven’t found a core network or group for women that you can meet on a weekly or monthly basis.
Are there any qualities women need to excel in a role like yours?
You need to be bold, confident, patient and a good communicator. Interpersonal skills with people from all walks of life, at different stages of their careers, are also key.
Tell us what you like most about working in this sector.
I enjoy being onsite, creating a good rapport with everyone, having a laugh and getting the job done. You’re not sitting behind a screen Monday to Friday, you're interacting with all kinds of people and every day is different. There are problems and challenges, but you get there in the end and it gives me real satisfaction when we’ve delivered a project.
What attributes can females offer?
Our strengths include being very patient, observant and organised. At times, I’ve asked male supervisors onsite whether they’ve thought of x, y or z and it’s not crossed their radar. I find that men usually just deal with something when they encounter it, whereas women foresee things more, so they plan ahead; which really helps. This means when we do get there, it's not a shock. I also feel we’re generally much better at multitasking – the guys have to do things one at a time.
Having a better gender balance in the industry isn’t just good for encouraging more women into engineering, it also means you get more people who think differently, which is so important in the workplace.
If you need support to build a more diverse talent pool within engineering, contact us today.