An international departmentMamta Singhal: Women in Engineering

Women around the world have been fighting for equal rights - whether it is in regards to their clothing, their education, who they marry, how wealth is allocated or indeed if they can vote.

For centuries they were considered inferior to men and without a doubt didn’t have equal rights compared to their male counterparts. Last year was the centenary of votes for women and it opened the flood gates for women proudly calling themselves ‘rebels’ and ‘change makers’.

Having worked in the engineering and manufacturing world for over 15 years I can see there have been many positive steps in how women are viewed in the work place – improvements in maternity leave, promotion rights and flexible working conditions to name a few.

However, history cannot be rewritten and with just a little bit of research it is clear that it was not as easy in the past. Some women would enrol on to an engineering degree but were never actually awarded a degree even though they did the same work as their male peers - if this happened today there would be social outcry! Indeed, very different to how things are now, but I do reflect on how heart-breaking it must have been for those women.

Having studied engineering for 5 years I am well aware of the dedication, patience and commitment it takes to succeed. The women back in the day that didn’t gain a degree for their work in STEM have fought for the right I have today and helped people like myself gain equal rights and indeed a strong education. Thankfully we have progressed in society and we now see women flourish in the world of engineering and science.   

Young Woman of the Year

After winning the Women Engineering Society (WES) Young Woman Engineer of the Year award in 2007 I was introduced to a fabulous group of women (and men) who were keen to readdress the gender balance in engineering. This year WES celebrate their centenary and I am thrilled to be part of their diversity and inclusion events. The most recent event was held at the Institute of Physics (IOP) where they highlighted the change makers in the engineering world. It was a privilege to be invited to meet the current and past presidents of the society – all extremely bright and passionate individuals who wish to see the next generation of engineering experts shine and make positive change happen in their chosen field.  

So how has the engineering world changed over the years?

I recall a time when I couldn’t find safety shoes in a size 4 or the engineering departments didn’t have female toilets, thankfully, that was more than 20 years ago and steady progression has been made in ensuring this difference does not now exist. In saying that, I don’t recall facing any gender bias issues during my university days.

The modern day opportunities available in STEM for women are diverse and varied!

I reflect on my own experience...

I have moved sectors, as well as functions within a variety of companies and I’m proud to have the transferable skills to move again if need be. I have gained breadth and depth in my roles and I truly believe that women have more opportunities than they have ever had in industry. The Institution of Engineering (IET), The Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) and the Women Engineering Society (WES) have launched many campaigns to support the movement that celebrate women being the change makers in the modern engineering world.

I was recently involved in a campaign called ‘Portrait of an Engineer’ which involved a photo shoot for a variety of female engineers that aimed to dispel the dull image of engineering and indeed showed the diverse, exciting and new image that is more and more in the profession. The campaign was a huge success and is still used across the UK to highlight the new faces that are present in engineering and science.

WES, IET and RAEng all have great awards to support and encourage women in engineering from those who are apprentice’s right through to highly established individuals who have dedicated their life to STEM.  Including the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Award, Chartership’s and OBE’s there are an array of awards, mentoring programmes and global recognition systems for those that redress the gender balance in engineering.

My career has meandered through some highs and lows, with different firms and with a range of people – what has been clear to me is that hard work, seeking out opportunities and surrounding yourself with good people is key. I value those that I see promoting engineering, equality and diversity, because you never know who else it might benefit. Additionally, I make sure to say thank you to those that have lifted me up during some testing career moments.

The future

In short we still have a way to go to reach a gender parity in the engineering world but it is up to all of us to make change happen. Keep learning, find a mentor, help others, break a few rules but more importantly enjoy being a fabulous engineer and remember you are setting the benchmark for the engineers of the future!


- Mamta joined DMEM to study MSc Integrated Product Design in 2001 and has since worked with companies including Hasbro, Dyson and Mars Chocolate.