Reasons why the number of women in engineering is so low
“Most girls who like science at school are pushed into medicine” says Nathalie Zajaczkowski of Airbus talking to 3Plus about being why there are so few women in engineering.
Women made up only 11% of the engineering workforce in 2017. This means that engineering continues to be a sphere with some of the lowest numbers of females. The UK in particular has the lowest percentage in Europe at only 10%. Once again we are left asking – why is it so difficult to engage women in engineering? To get a first hand insight we reached out to women working in this sector.
At only 24, as a Fuel Systems Engineer, with a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering (1st Class) and avid footballer, Nathalie has never let herself be defined by gender expectations. She works for the Bristol based company Airbus. It is an international aerospace company that works on the design and manufacture of aerospace products. In our interview, Nathalie discusses her own journey within STEM, following her passions, and the importance of a support network. She highlights how a lack of awareness in schools about engineering and the reasons why women don’t choose STEM subjects has caused this shortfall. We also get a snapshot into various sectors of the fascinating world of aerospace engineering, which as Nathalie rightly states, is not covered in school career advice meetings.
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Hi Nathalie, can you explain a little bit about what you do?
I am currently on an engineering graduate scheme within the fuel systems department at Airbus. I spend 3 months in different departments around the company before picking a final role after 2 years. So far I’ve done work on continued product development, worked on new helicopter systems in the modelling department and spent 3 months at the Airbus site in Toulouse. This was a much more hands on role involving troubleshooting procedures in the cockpit and looking into the fuel tanks, etc.
I’ve also been testing new software before it is implemented on production aircraft and the reactive support team dealing with daily airline queries. I even have the opportunity to go abroad to an airline for 3 months to see how the customer operates/maintains our products.
What made you want to follow a career path in the sciences?
I have always enjoyed making things and taking them apart (mainly breaking things). I particularly enjoyed maths and science at school. Plus I had the opportunity to fly planes and gliders at the Air Training Corps which made me want to get involved in designing aircraft.
Have you noticed a lack of females working or studying in sciences?
It depends what area of science as some disciplines have quite an even spread. On my aerospace engineering degree course, at the beginning of the degree, there were about 120 guys and only 11 girls. I am often the only woman in meetings at work, so I guess we are lacking women in engineering.
How do you think we could encourage more girls into the sphere?
Most girls who like science at school are pushed into medicine, so maybe creating more of an awareness of what engineering actually is. However this has improved a lot since I was at school.
As a young, female engineering graduate, is anyone ever surprised by your field of work?
Gender or age can affect the way people are perceived in the workplace or during interviews but people are surprised but never negatively. I think being one of only a few women in engineering actually helps in interviews and the workplace!
Were you aware that you have had to defy gender expectations to follow your passions?
It was a natural process. I’ve always followed my passions. As well as choosing to study engineering at University, I’ve also played for the women’s football team so I’ve never had any issues; I have really supportive parents and all the guys I’ve worked with have always been really encouraging as well.
What would you advise any women looking to pursue a career in STEM?
Go for it!