Design like a girl - tackling the gender divide in engineering

03 July 2019

It’s hard to believe that in 2019, some professions are still regarded as ‘male’ or ‘female’ careers. We at Hydro Tasmania believe in diversity in the workplace and are working actively to increase opportunities for women to enter and remain in traditionally male-dominated professions like engineering.


As Australia’s largest generator of clean, renewable energy, we also know the importance of technology-based innovation to find solutions to real world problems. Despite this and the growing demand for STEM capability, it remains a struggle to attract young people – and particularly women – to careers based on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Participation rates are falling across the board and research shows they are far lower among young women than young men, with Engineers Australia statistics showing women comprise just 29 per cent of university-qualified STEM graduates and only 13 per cent of qualified engineers. Of Hydro Tasmania’s current crop of 21 graduates, only two are female engineers and, of the 13 selected for the 2020 program, those in the engineering stream are all male.


We want to turn that around and encourage more girls and young women into engineering. We know that talent is not gendered but we recognise the need for a fresh and proactive approach so that women and girls can not only see a future for themselves in engineering but can turn that dream into a reality.


What we are doing to improve participation rates?


Our education program, Generation Hydro, started the ball rolling for primary and secondary Tasmanian students, harnessing Hydro’s resources to get students excited about STEM subjects so they can all realise their potential.


Hydro’s graduate program also offers great support to engineering and other graduates, and allows them to gain a depth of experience that can help clarify and consolidate their careers.


But if we are serious about getting more young people into engineering, and other STEM-based careers, we can’t ignore the gender imbalance. Hydro Tasmania is already committed to Engineers Australia’s ‘Driving Diversity’ scholarship program, sponsoring two scholarships of $5000 each for young women entering their first year of an engineering qualification.


The 2019 recipients, Hannah Price and Emma Calvert, both hope to turn their studies into successful careers and inspire other young women to follow their interests in the sciences. 

What a difference a mentor makes


We are also supporting Engineers Australia’s ‘Gender Equality in Engineering’ pilot project – which offers mentoring, a monthly peer support program and action learning groups to explore and address the issues raised in the program and inform initiatives developed by employers.


Beth Scott, a civil engineer with Entura – Hydro Tasmania’s professional services business – is taking part in the program as a mentee, along with Entura’s Power and Water National Director Angus Swindon, who is providing mentoring for the program.


As a woman in engineering, Beth Scott has seen firsthand both the challenges and rewards of her chosen career.  


“My job can be twice as hard as my male colleagues but three times as rewarding, and the few women I’ve seen in my line of work thrive on the challenges.


“As companies begin to recognise the value women can bring to their business, culture and bottom line, I am seeing more and more support for women in the industry and workplace.


“I am confident there is a bright future for women in engineering and I am looking forward to being a part of it.” 


Paying it forward


Angus Swindon described the ‘Gender Equality in Engineering’ project as a great opportunity to increase participation and retention rates among women.


“It offers opportunities to gain valuable, targeted, professional input from leading practitioners via the program content, to share stories and perspectives with other women keen to develop their professional careers and to gain insights and tips from experienced senior leaders within the profession.


Entura Managing Director Tammy Chu was the first female president of the Tasmanian division of Engineers Australia.


Ms Chu said she hasn’t personally experienced any impediment due to gender but says she benefitted enormously from mentoring from several male champions throughout her career.


“Having mentors to point out opportunities and encourage you along the way can be a huge help in realising your potential and overcoming the confidence gap that females sometimes have in recognising our talents and abilities.”


Changing perceptions through partnerships


To expand on these initiatives, Hydro Tasmania has joined forces with Power of Engineering – a not-for-profit organisation established in 2012, with the vision of unlocking the power of young people and inspiring the next generation of engineers to solve the world’s biggest challenges.


Funded by Hydro Tasmania, the partnership involves two free one-day events for high school students in year nine aimed at encouraging female students to participate in STEM subjects and supporting tertiary pathways by connecting local schools, universities and industry.


It’s hoped that by inspiring girls and young women to consider a career in engineering, we can help shift the perception that it is a field dominated by men, maths and hard hats, to being an opportunity to innovate, find solutions and create a positive future. 


Leading by example

Hydro Tasmania CEO, Steve Davy, said the energy industry is working towards better balance and has made some inroads in recent years, but there is plenty of work left to do.


 “We want to ensure aspiring female engineers have a clear and confident career path, and feel appreciated by would-be employers.

“They need to know that engineering’s no longer a boys’ club, that a strong career is within their reach, and businesses like Hydro Tasmania will support them.”


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