Why are role models critical to the engineering industry? - An article by Gemma Taylor

To celebrate International Women's Day, we're sharing this thought-provoking article by CIBSE YEN South West Chair, Gemma Taylor on the importance of role models (male or female) in the engineering industry. 

Why are role models critical to the engineering industry?

I have always been the type of person that likes to solve problems. I like to make the impossible, possible – and that’s why I’m an engineer.

I was brought up in the real world, not a pink and blue one. A world where Dad does the ironing, and mum does the DIY. It’s hardly surprising that there have always been zero barriers in becoming an engineer for me. I plotted my path through school, college and university to achieve the same qualifications, if not more, than the male counterparts that work around me - so I ask a simple question, ‘what’s with all the recent fuss of females in engineering?’

My mum has worked as a Mechanical Building Services Engineer for her entire life. At the age of 18, she was told engineering wasn’t for girls. It was at that moment, she quit her Saturday job at the hairdressers, found an apprenticeship in engineering, and took herself off to start and successfully complete her qualifications. Starting as an apprentice in 1990, she has now worked herself up to the position of ‘Engineering Manager’. That’s means, for as long as I’ve been on this planet, this is the norm - girls are engineers - and guess what? We’re good at it!

From a very young age, I would go into the office with my Mum. Some days I would sit at her desk and draw pictures, and other days, she would take me on site visits, with my own hardhat and boots. She’d give me a clipboard and we’d go and snag a recently installed design of hers, having a laugh with the site foremen as we went around. I loved it! I was championed for being bold and saying what I thought - even if it was a bit cheeky at times! It was an exciting and fascinating environment and everybody was so welcoming.

I had the opportunity to watch the way my mum interacted and worked in a statistically male dominated industry so effortlessly. I got to experience incredible professional men providing mentoring and support without question. I was able to witness my mum progress through the ranks in her field of expertise and receive constant positive feedback from her bosses, clients and colleagues. It never actually crossed my mind that my mum was only one of a handful of women in the workplace.

Its only now I realise that all of this meant that, rightly or wrongly throughout my training and career thus far, stereotypes or barriers around being female had never really entered my periphery and I guess that’s why I find that the recent focus on females in engineering can actually feel and be quite patronising for me.

When I reflect on all the times as a young girl I was given the opportunity to experience the construction industry for myself, its only now I recognise that not everybody is as lucky to have had the opportunities I have had growing up. Sure, not everybody has a mum that’s a kickass engineer. But in fact, many people don’t even have visibility of building services as a career at all until much later on in life. This is where I am adamant that we can be the change we want to see. I knew what I wanted to do, and I have worked hard to get where I am, but what’s important, is that I knew the path to get there and ultimately, I was able to aspire to a role model to do so.

It’s through my story that I have come to the realisation that role models are essential to achieve evolution, and something that I believe everybody needs to relate to, for inspiration and motivation. Male or Female. I am where I am today because of the support network I had around me, and this is how I intend to give back and carry myself throughout my working life.

I have a burning desire to promote the industry we work in, and provide young females and males, with the opportunities, support and guidance required to bring them into the exciting industry of Building Services engineer, and the wider Building Design field.

Never forget the famous quote by Joshua J. Marine….
” Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful”

Gemma Taylor
CIBSE YEN South West Chair

#IDWD2019 #BalanceforBetter #IamCIBSE 


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