Women in Engineering: We Need More than Words From Men

By December 13, 2018Professional Life

Women in Engineering

Priyani de Silva-Currie, Calibre Consulting National Asset Management Leader and Regional Manager Central, was among five female panel members who presented at Engineering New Zealand’s Trailblazers’ Lunch event in October. The event, held at MAS, was celebrating Suffrage 125, the anniversary of women winning the right to vote in New Zealand. De Silva-Currie writes that encouraging diversity within the profession is going to take more than words – it’s going to take action.

We need more than words from men

By Priyani de Silva-Currie

If we’re serious about creating a more diverse engineering profession, then men need to step up. Sponsorship, that is, men sponsoring women, is the single thing that does the most to promote diversity in the engineering profession. I say that because let’s face it, we’re still living in a man’s world. This is changing, but they still call the shots, and they still have the power, particularly within workplaces. They need to support women and we invite men to become sponsors of women.

My career has benefitted from men stepping up to help me at times when I needed it. There were times when I was made redundant. When I was at a crossroads. When I lost my mojo, and I needed support. I needed the constructive support of a sponsor, more than a shoulder to cry on or someone to tell me everything would be okay.

I have worked in engineering consultancy for the past 25 years. I’ve managed to climb the corporate ladder, but it has not been my technical strengths that have brought me to where I am now. Some of it has been a force of personality and self-promotion. However a lot of it has been the sponsorship of men – people actively supporting me to achieve.

My experience has taught me to acknowledge the important role men play in our world and our futures. Men have a role in the engineering profession to protect women and provide opportunities for us. It’s more than a role – it’s actually an obligation.

We are seeing change. Engineering New Zealand’s Diversity Agenda is helping to grow the number of women and other minorities in the profession. But it is slow-going. I don’t think in my lifetime we’ll see 50/50 balance right through from graduates to senior leaders.

Of course, I aspire for women to empower other women through promotion. However, with men taking up most of the senior roles, it would be foolish to think we can make these changes without men. We need men to appreciate and value the differences a woman brings to the top table in any business. We need men to understand that there’s strength in diversity. If women bring femininity, vulnerability and the ability to be an interwoven deep thinker, these are the kinds of things that are going to make an entire team successful.

Of course, diversity isn’t just about gender but that’s a good starting point. Men also have a role in supporting all people with differences. I’m talking about other identity markers like ethnicity and race.

For me, the best results I’ve observed have been when men have stood up and taken action for women and provided opportunities for women to succeed.

What I want to say to men is: you live in this world as much as we do. At the moment the advantage lies squarely on your side of the continuum, so help us bring it back to an even scale.

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