When the word ‘engineer’ comes into your mind, what is the picture that your mind conjures? A man in overalls and the protective head gear. The word ‘engineer’, while gender neutral, in society, it is mostly attributed to males. Realizing this and wanting to promote women in the field of engineering, the Institute of Engineering Technology Young Professionals (IET-YP) Sri Lanka Network launched the ‘Young Woman Engineer of the Year’ award firstly in 2017. The 2019 awards ceremony was conducted for the second time on 17 January 2019 at the Galadari Hotel.
In their presentations, the engineers brought out the challenges faced by female engineers in the field. “When a girl decides to choose Maths for A/Levels and then go into engineering, she gets much opposition from society. Even teachers don’t support the choice. Then when the girl graduates as an engineer, she faces challenges in her career,” stated Ms. Heshani, an electrical engineer by profession. She shared her experience as an electrical engineer working at a construction site and how she was mostly given to do the documentation work rather than field work. “I had to convince my boss that I was suitable for the job.
When I was in the field, the male engineers would always be protective of me but I made the most of the opportunities I got to work in the field,” she added.
Other finalists too echoed similar sentiments in their presentations. Ms. Marzook, an electrical engineer at the Lakvijaya Power Plant, shared how motherhood was challenging to the career. “Being a mother is no easy task, and people expected me to drop out after being a mother or not show a stellar performance as I did before being a mother.” Family pressure relating to travel, hazardous work environment and work timings were a few other challenges other finalists touched upon.
They also revealed there was a lack of female mentors for female engineers, and a lack of female role models in engineering for female students to take up the discipline. “Girls think that engineering is a very complex field. While it is complex, if one is interested and is able to grasp the concepts, the field is easier to navigate. Sadly, society and also teachers hardly encourage this field for girls and girls aren’t aware of many people in the field to look up to,” revealed Ms. Pathirage. The other finalists shared how some of their mentors in their professional lives were actually men, but added it was challenging to find a good mentor for a female engineer due to the general stereotyping in the field.
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