Role modelling – a powerful learning and attraction strategy for women in engineering

24 June, 2019

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There’s double the reason to celebrate on this year’s International Women in Engineering Day (INWED).  As well as celebrating the 6th INWED, the Women in Engineering Society is marking their 100 year anniversary.  INWED’s annual awareness campaign and the WES centenary celebrations have together created an inspiration rich year for all of the fantastic career opportunities open to females in the industry.

I’ve been following on Twitter @WESCentenary who are running a series of initiatives throughout the year to celebrate the present, transform the future and remember the past of women in engineering.  I’m particularly enjoying WES’s work in showcasing one hundred years of women engineers, sharing their stories on social media and Wikipedia.  From the first woman to be granted a Marine Engineer licence in America, to India’s first female Mechanical Engineer and England’s first female engineering graduates there is daily inspiration for us all.

Over the last few days at Pick Everard we’ve been featuring our own present day inspirers through a series of blogs, #twittertakeovers and female colleague selfies in a range of social media posts.  This included our very own Ali Ratcliffe’s excellent blog on how role models and education are fundamental in encouraging more women in to senior positions.  Read more about it here.

With all of this amazing work happening I wanted to take some time to take a closer look at role modelling, how it can transform thinking and behaviours and how it could be a stronger influence in areas where we need to address under-representation.

Role modelling is something we see as powerful and crucial at Pick Everard.  We recognise that learning from leaders past and present – female and male – can help with our professional development and our evolving professional identity.  It gives a sense of what is possible for us.  We’re all influenced by role models, encouraged by them and through this we can draw out inspiration and learning on what’s right for us. (Sealy and Singh 2008).

Using role modelling to celebrate and encourage more women in to engineering is something that has great potential.  Role modelling can help by enhancing perceived availability and attractiveness of career opportunity.  It’s a key source of “motivation, self-definition and…guidance” (Gibson 2004).  Indeed, how many of us remember saying as children “I want to be like you/them when I grow up?”  It’s therefore a key tool that should be maximised across the industry.

Role models for women, of course, don’t just need to be women.  We’re all inspired by different things and many female engineers have entered the profession because they have been motivated to do so by positive male role models, family experiences, projects or stories that have struck a chord with them.  What matters most is the opportunity to share relatable, engaging experiences that make people believe ‘that could be me’.

Anyone has the potential to be a role model.  You may in fact already be one without knowing it.  If you would like to personally do more to elevate yourself as a role model, or make better use of this as a practice in your organisation, here’s some ideas.

Values and Behaviours

Our values, attitudes and behaviours set standards for othersThink about some of the behaviours that are important to you as an individual.  If your organisation has company values and a competency framework in place these could also help guide you.

Qualities such as being knowledgeable, respectful, having integrity, confidence, being brave and unique and having a positive outlook are often important to people.  If your organisation doesn’t have a competency framework in place you could work together to create one, identifying what you and your people need from each other.  Then, walk the walk!

Share case studies and blogs

There are many routes available. Through your intranet, presentations, personal or corporate social media, linking with professional institutions and associations, professional magazines and your careers brochures to name but a few.

Spotlighting your people can help give a focus to specific and targeted areas of a profession.  Stories that are personal and authentic are likely to resonate well with people. They provide proof for people of what can be achieved. They give a strong steer on routes up, through and in to the profession.

Everyday work experience

No matter what stage we’re at in our career we’re interacting and observing others on a daily basis and we’re learning from thisIn our early career perhaps even more so.  The everyday work experience enables people to see precisely what its like in an engineering environment and to see how different personalities approach the challenges and rewards it offers. 

Look for new ways in which you can make room for people who wish to pursue work experience opportunities. We find our recurring summer placement scheme works well at Pick Everard.

Lead and participate in focus groups

Female networking groups and roundtable discussions are practices in place at Pick Everard. They provide an opportunity to generate fresh thinking, share and address challenges and learn from best practice on topics important to female engineers.

We recognise that the opportunity to share experiences doesn’t just come from formal organised events, but also through socialising and informal get togethers, so we encourage this too.  Ultimately, look for ways to get people together or get yourself involved in the numerous networks available.

Ultimately, its good to get talking about our female engineer role models and to get talking about the subject in general, particularly at senior levels.

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