IWD2018: Women in Engineering
March 8th is International Women’s Day, and it’s perhaps fitting that in 2018 it coincides with significant steps being made in a number of important movements. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and the issue of the gender pay gap, have been making headlines for months; today is a landmark for one of the most important Irish issues in recent times, as the Irish government will publish details of the forthcoming referendum on a repeal of the abortion ban; and earlier this week Frances McDormand’s already famous speech called for women to be given the backing to tell their stories.
All these movements have made headlines and been part of the wider battle on female equality which exists in all areas of life, not least in education, training and employment.
On the anniversary marking one hundred years since women were first allowed to vote, Way out West looked at several innovations at South West College in recent years which have engaged with these changes or tried to make changes of their own.
Now, to mark international women’s day, we spoke to two engineering students about their experiences in what has traditionally been a male dominated industry. Máire O’Higgins and Lauren Cairns both studied an entry level course in renewable energy at South West College and now study renewable engineering at Ulster University, Magee.
Máire describes her early interest in the industry. ‘I always knew I wanted to study renewable energy, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to go down the science route or the engineering route. So I did my research and decided to go with renewable energy engineering, and although I was aware of the course in McGee, I felt I wasn’t ready for University, so opted to do the entry course here at South West College, which I completed in two years, and then progressed to McGee.
‘I would recommend that route to anyone. The hands on, practical approach to things I experienced at South West College, and the wonderfully approachable lecturers I learned from, really helped prepare me for university. The placement aspect of the course also allowed me to secure a six month placement with Kingspan Energy, and I’ll hopefully be going back to work with them for a year for my university placement.’
For Máire, her engineering journey has been thought out and deliberate from day one, and she has no plans on stopping. She says, ‘I hope to complete a Masters in renewable energy engineering, and I’d love to grow within a company and also have the opportunity to travel.’ However, she also admits that no part of this journey comes without its challenges.
It was a bit intimidating coming in on the first day knowing that the class, and in many ways, the industry as a whole, would be male dominated. But I was determined.
‘I went to an all-girls secondary school, so it wasn’t easy coming from that into what was nearly an all-boys class, with just one other girl. But you just get on with it, and over time a lot of the stereotypes and clichés disappear. You think that they would have an advantage with the practical stuff, but it doesn’t work out like that.’
Support from Lauren, her female colleague in the class, was important to Máire, and she says similar support is important across the industry.
‘It was a big thing that we had each other. We helped with projects, and worked in groups together, which of course such a big factor in engineering. There’ll definitely be more women getting involved in engineering in the years to come. Within my placement you could see that women were growing within the company, which is a big thing. So women are definitely hopefully taking over the engineering industry.’
Lauren, whose journey into engineering began when someone in her part time job recommended the course at South West College, agrees that a change to bring more women into engineering feels inevitable.
‘It was a bit intimidating coming in on the first day knowing that the class, and in many ways, the industry as a whole, would be male dominated. But I was determined, I wanted to get stuck into it and proceed onto the next level, and I think that’s the way the industry is going as a whole. I’ve secured my upcoming placement in Terex and it’s already clear there that there are a lot more women working in the industry, in manufacturing and design departments.’
‘So I can definitely recommend it to young women thinking of getting involved in the engineering industry and industries like it. Do your research, make sure you think it’s right for you, but definitely don’t be scared to pursue it.’