We have female engineers to thank for Kevlar, Remote Control Messaging and the Brooklyn Bridge yet women make up only 12% of engineers employed in Australia.
We chatted with Natalie Waldie, a long-time Engineer at BAE Systems Australia about some of the challenges she’s faced in her career.
How big is the issue of a lack of female engineers in your experience?
We still seem to be making little progress in increasing the number of women taking up an engineering career, and even less progress retaining women into leadership roles. As someone who has had a very rewarding and successful career so far in engineering I find this frustrating and disappointing.
What are some of the barriers preventing women from becoming/staying engineers?
I still think awareness is the biggest challenge. It’s easy to define what a doctor or lawyer does, but the breadth of the engineering field makes it much harder to explain what ‘an engineer’ does. Plus the community does not place engineers on the same pedestal as these other professions.
Now once a women becomes an engineer, I think at BAE Systems she’ll have the same opportunities as her male colleagues and a great career and there are many different paths she may take. Some women will move out of engineering into management and continue a successful career. Some may choose to postpone career advancement in favour of increased flexibility if kids come along.
Others may struggle to progress their career due to the challenges when kids come along. Understanding each woman’s career choices and working to find a path through this challenging period of life is key to the long term retention of female engineers and women in general. BAE Systems has been incredibly supportive of my journey to make this work.
Any practical advice for young female engineers coming through the ranks?
Don’t try to be ‘one of the boys’. We need your diversity of thought and action! As women we need to believe in ourselves, and actively manage our careers.
One thing people get wrong about engineering generally?
Engineering is about responsible problem solving to benefit the community and advance society. Many people don’t think of engineering as a career that ‘helps people’ but this is the core of everything we do as a profession!