On 23 June, International Women in Engineering Day, we remembered the male-dominated history of engineering and the barriers this formed for women in the field. However, with committed mentors fostering inclusivity, perceptions are changing. This positive transformation benefits the entire engineering sector.
This is where quality mentorship becomes important. It can be a powerful tool for empowering women in engineering, helping them to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. By providing guidance, support, and opportunities for skill sharing, mentors can help women to succeed in the field and advance their careers.
In a recent article published on News4, Doctors Karen Garner and Chantelle van Staden – both of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering – explain why mentors are critical in guiding new employees.
The Importance of Mentorship
Mentorship plays a crucial role in the professional development of all engineers, but its significance is particularly pronounced for female engineers. It is important not only for technical learning but also navigating the culture, dynamics, and politics of the team. A good mentor:
- Provides guidance and support, especially in male-dominated fields like engineering, where they may face unique challenges.
- Help their mentee build professional networks with other professionals in her field and help her establish relationships that can benefit her career.
- Act as a role model that promotes gender equality and helps overcome biases.
- Provide skill-sharing opportunities that help women to develop new skills and knowledge that can be valuable for their careers.
- Increase retention and advancement of women in the field as many women leave engineering due to a lack of support and opportunities for advancement.
Lack of good mentorship is the main reason why many skilled female engineers leave the field. Without a mentor for guidance and support, understanding team culture and dynamics, especially in male-led spaces, becomes difficult. One female engineer explains:
“I learnt much of what I now know the hard way and had to learn to speak up for myself. It was hard, but I persevered, and I would like to think that I made it. As a senior engineer, I can look back and see where a mentor would have been able to guide me through some murky waters. I now actively mentor junior staff, especially younger women. It really is difficult making ourselves heard, and it often feels like we must prove ourselves over and over.”
Impede Women Engineers’ Path to Advancement
Not having key connections can hinder advancement, especially in high-level engineering jobs. Importantly, the aim shouldn’t be to make female employees fit the current culture. Striving for “sameness” limits innovation and growth. Instead, mentors should guide mentees, using their unique strengths and helping with weaknesses. This way, they support individuality, encourage diversity, and promote progress. As one employee remarked:
“I entered the workforce as a newly graduated engineer, and I found a wonderful senior engineering mentor that really fuelled my success at the company. I felt that having a great male mentor from the beginning, that truly wanted me to succeed, helped break any gender-based barriers and allowed me the space to integrate and thrive in my work environment.”
The importance of mentorship in the engineering field, particularly for women, cannot be overstated. It’s a powerful instrument that not only empowers women to overcome obstacles and reach their goals but also serves as a catalyst for diversity and innovation within the industry.
While the engineering field has traditionally been male-dominated, it’s clear that the narrative is shifting. With the concerted efforts of mentors, we’re seeing a positive transformation that benefits not just women, but the entire sector.
As Doctors Karen Garner and Chantelle van Staden confirm, with the right mentorship, women in engineering can confidently navigate the industry, making significant strides in their careers and contributing to the industry’s evolution.
Click here for the original piece as published.