SYSTRA Celebrates International Women’s Day 2019
We spoke to our staff, from new Graduates to Senior Directors to find out their thoughts on International Women’s Day, and how SYSTRA as a business can support and promote the #BalanceforBetter message
Their inspirational messages highlight the importance of the day as an opportunity not only to reflect on the past, but to think about how we can inspire future generations of women to enter the STEM industries, breaking down the barriers in what are perceived to be male dominated professions. Even more important is how, after today, we continue to engage in the debate around gender balance and aim to lead by example in our industry by creating a gender-balanced business.
1. What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
SHARON (Graduate Transport Modeller): To me International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate every woman out there. Women started fighting for equal opportunities over 100 years ago, and I feel that fight has helped me become what I am today, hence this day should be celebrated.
ROSARIO (Project Director): I have mixed feelings about the day. On one hand is the realisation that we are still fighting for gender balance. But on the other hand, is a great day to discover and celebrate the achievements made by women.
ESHA (Assistant Consultant): To me, International Women’s Day is about breaking down the socially constructed barriers which lead women to feel inferior to their male counterparts. It is about being yourself, thinking that ‘I can do this,’ and overriding the typical ‘Barbie girl’ image of what is seen as ‘ideal’ and ‘preferred’ in society. It is about celebrating our differences, and putting aside our divisions, to unite and create progressive and equal opportunities.
CATHERINE (Civil Engineer): This is a day a certain quote below resonates most to me: “Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we raise them, and most importantly, may we be them.”
2. What made you decide to work in an industry perceived to be male dominated?
SHARON: The main reason I joined this industry is because of my interest in the Transportation field. Being in a male dominated industry came second to that, I have always been of the opinion that if a man can do it, then why can’t I? That spirit and perseverance has allowed me to become a member of the SYSTRA Ltd Family.
ROSARIO: I always loved architecture but was not very artistic. I also loved building things and I was good at maths, physics and chemistry so it was a no brainer for me to go into engineering. The thought of going into a male dominated industry never crossed my mind.
ESHA: I wanted to work in Transport Planning because of its relevance in society. I don’t believe that working in a male dominated industry should prevent women from reaching their aspirations and paving out a successful career pathway. For me, working in this industry was about my passion, resilience and determination, despite it being male dominated.
CATHERINE: Right from childhood, I have always had a passion for the built environment. But most of all, I was greatly encouraged and supported by my family and teachers to not be afraid to pursue my dream career.
3. What would you say to female students looking for a technical career path?
SHARON: I would say if that is where your passion lies then you should not let anything stop you. It is very important to start networking even if you have just joined university as you can never say when an opportunity would come across your way.
ROSARIO: Go for it as it is great fun. Explore all the options as the perception society has of engineering and particularly of rail is not quite accurate. For example, I don’t go around wearing orange gear and heavy boots. Don’t get me wrong, there is a requirement that involves wearing orange gear when working on the railway but what I want to say is that there are numerous paths that can be followed within engineering and rail that female students might not be aware of.
ESHA: I would say to go for it and follow what you enjoy! It’s about proving that stereotypical notions of women and men working in such technical industries are homogenised-work hard, be yourself and prove them wrong.
CATHERINE: Apply for work placement weeks at companies that offer your chosen career to give you an overview of the type of work you will do. Above all, find a mentor to inspire and guide you.
4. What would your advice be for women who are just starting out in your industry?
SHARON: I deeply relate to this question as I started out less than 6 months back. These past few months has taught me more than I could ever learn from books or lectures.
ROSARIO: Just be yourself, focus on your talent and don’t allow anyone to say that you don’t belong.
ESHA: I think for women starting out in this industry, it is important to be pro-active and get stuck in with the projects that you have been assigned, asking for help when you need it, while not being afraid to challenge the status quo. Furthermore, get to know and speak to senior women in the company you work for and wider through networking events.
CATHERINE: 1. Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way, even if you do not know the ‘how’, the process will be your teacher. 2. At the start, it will seem intimidating, but keep going it gets easier. Focus on your growth. 3. Do not get caught up in the ‘achieving your professional qualification in a certain time limit’, it is a process, you will eventually get there.
5. How do you think we can overcome barriers, encourage and nurture employment among women in the Engineering and Technical (STEM) industries?
SHARON: Honestly, I feel like there will always be barriers while working in such fields, but if you are confident enough and have a good support system such as good team mates, project manager’s, colleagues etc., that could make a world of a difference.
ROSARIO: While we are making progress, I think there is still a long way to go. The society is slowly getting educated to appreciate STEM and those barriers are slowly disappearing. Working with schools (including children, parents and teachers) is fundamental to change their perception and to encourage girls to consider engineering as a career path.
Also with the arrival of new technology, the way we see and do engineering is changing rapidly. This is getting the attention of younger generations, so we must find ways to maximise this opportunity and encourage them to get more involved.
ESHA: I think perceptions about overcoming gender norms should be instilled from a young age, for example, LEGO’s are not just for boys, while dolls are not just for girls. It is important that STEM subjects and knowledge of future career paths is actively promoted to women in schools- there needs to be a ‘can do,’ positive attitude about women in STEM. More importantly, I think it is important that young women considering opportunities in STEM can talk women who are working in the industry, to help overcome any fears or misconceptions,
CATHERINE: I think one of the most important things we need is more mentorship, encouragement and support especially for the younger generation in the industry. At times we need to hear and echo the experiences of those who have excelled before us, in order to know that excellence in this male-dominated industry is actually feasible in addition to our commitments outside work.
6. What makes SYSTRA a great place to work for women?
SHARON: There are various reasons why working for SYSTRA is great, The work culture here is extremely friendly and light, my colleagues never treated me as a ‘New starter’ who was also an International student, they made me feel very welcomed from Day 1. Further a lot of the senior positions at SYSTRA are held by women, which makes you think that that could be you one day if you work hard enough and not give up on your dreams.
ROSARIO: I am valued as a professional who can contribute to the growth of the business. I also feel that SYSTRA promotes the development of talent and allows you to thrive. Just look at the number of women and the average age of our workforce.
ESHA: The people at SYSTRA make it such a great place to work, for everyone. Importantly, at SYSTRA there is an equal respect for everyone, no matter what gender, race or grade; you are valued. There are a number of successful women in the office who inspire me, through their commitment, knowledge and morals. The best thing is, they are always willing to offer you advice or just have a general chat with you, whether about technical skills or about the latest BBC drama. And yes- I have found myself saying, ‘I want to be like her,’ when working with my line manager and others in the office.
CATHERINE: SYSTRA has taken great initiative in supporting women including a notable number of women being recruited in STEM job opportunities and offering quite good incentives that support women including flexible working.
7. How do you think we could strike a better balance in our industry and in SYSTRA #BalanceforBetter?
SHARON: I think a better balance could be developed by providing equal opportunity to all and having a diverse group of employees as that would definitely make an organisation more innovative and competitive.
ROSARIO: Existing role models in the industry and at SYSTRA have a massive role to play in breaking potential barriers. They have the option to influence people to brake any existing barriers, but also to motivate people to thrive and develop their talent to achieve gender-balanced boardrooms for example.
The use of social media can be very powerful to raise awareness, to encourage younger generations to take action but also allows them to find organisations (like SYSTRA) and people (like me!) that share their views and values.
ESHA: I think the first step for this industry is to not be afraid to talk about the issues relating to the lack of number of women in transport planning and engineering. The industry needs to promote diversity through focusing on the best talent, no matter what gender. The industry needs to show its openness to achieve #BalanceforBetter through collaboration of different companies, and acknowledging the amazing women we have in the industry today. It’s also very important that it is recognised that attitudes towards gender equality vary around the globe. As SYSTRA has a global presence, #BalanceforBetter needs to be a key movement in giving more women the confidence to pursue such a career.
CATHERINE: For starters, we could try and have gender balance in all sectors for instance in the different committee boards in the industry, a gender-balance of employees at work and within leadership roles.