The 23rd of June marks International Women in Engineering Day. The date celebrates the achievements of female engineers and aims to encourage more women and girls to pursue engineering careers. This year, the theme is Enhanced by Engineering, which aims to showcase women in engineering who are helping to build a brighter future. 

Two of DefProc’s engineers, Erandi and Bridget, share their thoughts on being women in engineering and their journey so far. 

Erandi Attygalla, Embedded/Electrical Engineer, and Bridget Wagner, Mechanical Engineer.

Career pathways

Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering?

Bridget: I realised I was interested in engineering in my sophomore year in high school. They hosted a careers fair aimed at getting women into male-dominated jobs. I went to a talk given by a female engineer and she had us do the classic egg drop challenge. I got to see how problem-solving and tactility lend themselves to engineering. Plus, it was fun! After that, I decided to become an engineer. 

Erandi: I always had an interest in computers and electronics. As a child, I’d constantly look for things around the house to fix. I was also fond of maths. Eventually, I decided that engineering would be a good option for me as it had always been an interest of mine.

Q: What were some of the key milestones in your journey?

Bridget: During my undergraduate degree, I did a co-op, which is essentially a rotating internship. I also had the opportunity to work in a laboratory for my biomechanics research, as well as working as a teaching assistant. All of this meant I gained some solid work experience during my degree, which also helped me to figure out which aspects of engineering I did and didn’t enjoy.

Erandi: After my bachelor’s degree, I worked as a trainee for a year across different industries. I had the opportunity to work on several projects which gave me experience in different areas. I then got a position as a university research assistant. Working in academia was a completely different experience, but it meant I could work on a couple of long-term projects involving smart grids and machine learning. After gaining some work experience, I pursued my education further and came to the UK for my master’s degree in AI. 

Q: What sort of challenges did you face?

Bridget: I think one of the biggest challenges is getting a career in engineering, especially product development. When you graduate, a lot of places require an extensive amount of experience for what is essentially an entry-level position. That, coupled with the fact that some jobs aren’t advertised online, makes it difficult to get your career off the ground. Another personal challenge for me is the feeling of imposter syndrome. Engineering is extensive and there isn’t always one specific answer to your challenge. If you get stuck in your head, you can easily feel like you’re not good enough or always behind. Because of that, it’s important to have a good support network in your workplace.

Erandi: Being a woman in engineering creates its own challenges; you have to be confident or people won’t take you seriously. It’s also extremely competitive nowadays, with young graduates getting fewer opportunities. It’s so hard to find your first job. 


Educational experience

Q. How did your educational experience prepare you for your career?

Bridget: You don’t know what your career will look like, so it’s important to learn the basic skills and theoretical principles. Some of the things I learned at university I haven’t used. But there are things like CAD, physics, soldering and building circuit boards that I do every day. Working on team projects was probably the best thing that prepared me for my career as it’s a similar dynamic to the workplace. 

Erandi: I did mechatronics for my undergraduate degree. At the time, it was a very new area and our professor encouraged us to research things independently and discover things for ourselves. This way of learning gave me the strength and confidence to handle things that were new and unfamiliar. The downside was that it reduced our exposure to traditional theoretical knowledge. However, now I’ve begun my career, I realise that this approach prepared me for working with technology. Everything is constantly changing and new technologies emerge. Theoretical knowledge can always be gained later on. Knowing how to adapt to new challenges is an invaluable skill.

Q. Did you have any mentors/role models? Did you feel supported as a woman in engineering?

Bridget: You often hear about women feeling isolated when they do engineering at university, but I had the opposite experience. I was lucky to be in an engineering sorority; it offered a strong group of women who all supported each other. I also lived in an engineering dorm for two years so I built lots of friendships with other women in a similar position. 

Erandi: My first role model is my father. He has always encouraged me to do what I wanted. Not everyone was supportive of me wanting to pursue engineering initially. In Sri Lanka, very few women go into engineering, especially mechanical. Whilst I was a research assistant, I also had a supervisor who was very supportive and who pushed me towards pursuing a master’s degree. Since working at DefProc, Patrick has also been a great mentor. He understands my level of experience and always has advice to offer. That level of support can be hard to come by in this industry. 

Q. What advice would you give to young women currently pursuing engineering degrees?

Bridget: Don’t be afraid to explore engineering. I think from a young age, girls aren’t exposed to the “hands-on” aspects of engineering, so it can be hard to get a firm understanding of the opportunities available. There’s something out there for everyone. For women about to start their careers, let your voice be heard! It might feel nerve-wracking the first few times you share your input, but you earned your place there. Trust yourself and your skills.

Erandi: If you enjoy something, pursue it. The sense of accomplishment you feel when you’re doing something you’re passionate about will drive you further. People often push you towards careers that are highly paid, but if you don’t love it, you will burn out quickly. Have patience with yourself, things take time. Eventually, you’ll end up exactly where you need to be.

Moving forward

Q. What steps do you think are necessary to encourage women into engineering? How do we retain them?

Bridget: To appeal to women, you need to show them what engineering is. As I said, girls aren’t always exposed to engineering like boys. I had no idea what engineering involved. It turns out not everything is about fixing cars! The best way to do this is through schools providing the same level of exposure across the board. In terms of retention, I’ve heard from female friends working in engineering that they aren’t taken seriously. Instances such as a woman’s idea only being taken into consideration when a man has presented it as his own, or the attitude that progression opportunities don’t need to be given to women because they’ll be leaving to have children soon. It’s like being a mother is incompatible with engineering. Women won’t stay in the industry if this is their experience. 

Erandi: I think the biggest discouragement in the industry is when women decide they want to get married and have children. It’s hard raising a family and a lot of women don’t get the support they need from their company. If that changes, I think it will significantly improve women’s retainment in the industry. Advancements in technology mean a lot more people can work from home. It’s time to utilise this and implement changes that benefit everyone.

Q. One last question, what innovations/trends are you currently excited about?

Bridget: The advancements in 3D printing. Big production batches are starting to utilise 3D printing, which was previously only used for small/rapid production. The flexibility and affordability that 3D printing offers means that it’s becoming more attractive for manufacturers. I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops over the next few years. 

Erandi: I’m excited about AI becoming more familiar to people. Initially, people saw AI with the “robots taking over” narrative, but I think people are beginning to look at it more positively. This will help with the progression of AI in our daily lives. Any change will undoubtedly have its negatives, but you need to look at the advancements it can make and adapt. 


Stay connected with us

At DefProc, we want to ensure that our innovation work supports and promotes gender equality, diversity and social inclusion. Diversity is crucial to foster creativity and bring unique perspectives to our projects. Although DefProc is small, 4/6 of the team are women, including our co-founder, Jen Fenner. As well as creating an inclusive, supportive work environment, we believe this gender balance positively impacts our innovation work as we design products that meet the needs of the whole population, not just the male half. If you want to learn more about our work and the incredible team behind it, check out our other blog posts or follow us on LinkedIn.

Posts you may like

Jen Fenner Joins Advanced Manufacturing Board

Last month, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority announced appointments to their new cluster boards: Advanced Manufacturing, Health and Life Sciences and Digital and Creative. DefProc’s managing director and co-founder, Jen [...]