As an engineering graduate, I was really pleased to see a report recently showing Ireland leads the way in Europe for the number of STEM graduates it produces. It is testament to the hard work of people following careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields in this country.
Unfortunately, when you look a little closer, we’re not doing great when it comes to the gender divide in this area. In 2018, Ireland produced a little over 47 male STEM graduates per 1000, compared to just 23 females. I’ve seen this in action myself - just 10 per cent of my university graduating class was made up of females.
A career in engineering is diverse, exciting, challenging, and most of all, fulfilling. As a civil engineer, my expertise can be applied to anything. You could travel anywhere around the world and find someone who trained in civil engineering before transferring that experience to a really wide variety of roles.
So it’s a great job and I’m living proof that there is no reason women can’t be first-rate engineers. So, why aren’t there more of us? It’s not the case that young women aren’t interested in engineering. When I spoke at a careers evening at my old school, I got plenty of feedback from the young women wondering what this career path is like.
Something more is needed to access and utilise the engineering potential in this cohort of students.The solution to this could well lie in an approach that’s been successful in other areas of society in recent years. ‘If she can’t see it, she can’t be it’ could have applied to me. If I hadn’t had access to relevant speakers and school initiatives at second level, particularly in transition year, I may not have found this path that I love.
Hearing industry experts speak about their experiences really helped me form an idea of what could work for me. It set me on a path to my choice of course at University of Limerick, where we got to study different strands of engineering - mechanical, electrical and civil - before we needed to specialise.
Seeing and being
Seeing examples of women in the engineering industry is the type of role model female students need. It sounds simplistic but it really does break down barriers. With my employer, I’ve been proud to play a small part in this approach. I work at Kirby Group Engineering and a couple of years ago they asked me to participate in an advertising campaign to help recruit engineers, particularly women.
It was a great opportunity for me to pay forward the benefit I got from engineering role models during my school days. I like to think of myself as helping to spread the word that it’s ok and normal to be a woman in engineering, and it’s a brilliant career path. I do get a great slagging from my friends whenever the pictures pop up in the papers or online, but it’s worth it.
I’ve been with Kirby since my professional career started via a college placement. It was a fantastic way to get out into the real world and see how I could work alongside mechanical and electrical colleagues on large projects right across Europe.
The firm really invests in new talent and we got to travel to sites in England and Scotland to see projects in reality that we had been working on virtually back in Ireland. The placement opened up a whole new horizon for me and I couldn’t wait to get started when my course finished. I got a place on Kirby’s Graduate Programme and haven’t looked back.
These days, our civil engineering team within the power transmission and distribution business unit acts almost as a middle man between the site and the project designer. I love being able to split my time between the office and being out on site - especially in the winter!
My role with Kirby has given me exposure to an incredibly diverse range of projects, some unique in Ireland, like current ones exploring battery storage. Every new project is an opportunity to learn more and apply those lessons next time out, for example expertise picked up on a job in the UK have come in really handy for others here .
If you’re a woman reading this who thinks engineering could be the future for you, I say go for it. You’ve no idea how varied the role can be and the skills you will learn can bring you anywhere in the world. I’m a few years into my career and I’m still amazed and the horizons that are opening before me. The support is there, the mentors are there, they’re just waiting for you.