We are celebrating International Women in Engineering Day by introducing some of our female engineers and hearing from them how they feel diversity has evolved since the first International Women in Engineering Day ten years ago.
We hear from Heather Higgins, Principal Mechanical Design Manager, responsible for leading a team of engineers that specify and deliver mechanical infrastructure projects in Portsmouth Naval Base. Heather is a Chartered Engineer with 15+ years’ experience encompassing warship in-service support, warship design & build, and building services.
Why did you want to become an engineer?
I have always enjoyed making and repairing things, crafts, and at school I loved technology and maths. As a person, I also really enjoy the camaraderie that comes from being part of a team working towards a common goal. I chose to study Mechanical Engineering because it allowed me to combine these interests, and I specifically chose to work in the defence sector because of the added challenge and prestige of supporting the Armed Forces.
Have you noticed any changes in diversity in engineering since you were studying?
I would love to say yes to this, but in my opinion progress on diversity and inclusion in engineering is slow. In the last 15 years I have not seen a measurable increase in the percentage of women in each of my engineering teams, although on a positive note, two of the three women in my current team are in senior roles. What has changed over the years is my confidence to challenge poor behaviour, however, I recognise that not everyone has the personality to do this, or the luxury of being senior enough for the challenge to be heard.
Any advice for anyone wanting to study engineering?
My advice for anyone wanting to study engineering is to choose a course with subjects that interest you: your qualification is just the start and does not have to define your career. Continuous professional development is a key principle of engineering and there are plenty of opportunities throughout your career to do further training and gain diverse experiences, should you wish. I studied Mechanical Engineering with a focus on materials and coatings and have since worked a variety of roles in Military Aerospace, Shipbuilding and now the construction industry. Also, get involved with the local branches of the Engineering Institutes and the Women’s Engineering Society (WES). In my experience, people in the wider engineering community are very willing to offer their time and knowledge to anyone just starting out.
What do you think about International Women in Engineering Day?
I think International Women in Engineering Day achieves its aim of celebrating and promoting women in engineering and I welcome the opportunity to connect to the wider community. However, the momentum gained from this event needs to be carried through the rest of the year and into company policies and behaviours to properly effect change.