As a leading provider of engineering and technical staffing solutions, Carbon60 recognise that gender diversity in the workforce is a historic and ongoing challenge. We operate in a predominately male environment, with females accounting for less than 1 in 8 of the engineering workforce overall. The lack of women in the industry not only contributes to the gender pay gap but also deprives companies of a considerable pool of talent – a significant concern in a skill short market.
To celebrate International Women in Engineering day and help raise awareness of these issues we spoke to engineer, Melania Santoro, about her experience as a female engineer, the challenges of working in a male dominated environment and how perceptions can be changed going forward.
Melania immediately captured our attention when she candidly confirmed that the most challenging part of being an engineer is “being a female engineer.”
We wanted to delve deeper into this and find out why she wanted to get into engineering, how she got to where she is today and whether being a woman has made any difference to how she’s been perceived.
Growing up in Naples, Italy, Melania was always inquisitive, constantly asking her parents questions about how things work, such as how to build a spacecraft. When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up her answer was “an aerospace engineer”. Despite patriarchal reservations, Melania excelled in science, maths and physics before achieving both Bachelors and Masters degrees in Aerospace & Astronautics. She was the only female in her class throughout her further education in Italy. She moved to the UK for further studies at Southampton and Oxford Brookes, becoming a specialist in aerodynamics. She was one of only two females in her class yet a stand-out candidate when offered to start her career in Formula One with Caterham as an Aerodynamic Model Design Engineer. Adjusting her aerospace aspirations was a fine compromise for an F1 lover. Today, Melania works at Jaguar Land Rover as a Lead Battery Thermal Engineer, managing all thermal projects in relation to batteries for the new electric car programme.
Like many engineers, Melania finds her work deeply fulfilling. One of her proudest achievements so far was her work with engineering consultancy Wirth Research on an all-new aerodynamic kit for Honda teams in the 2015 IndyCar series. Not only was she the only female, she was also the only international student on the team. The AeroKit helped Honda achieve six wins in 2015, as well as an Indy 500 win in 2016.
“Being part of a concept group and having my voice heard during the design gave me the opportunity to prove myself in a male-dominated environment. It’s a great feeling seeing a concept realised and then be able to point your finger at a car on a track and say ‘I worked on that design!’.”
Above all Melania enjoys problem solving, the collaborative nature of her work, interacting with different departments and working as a team to deliver a whole system, not just a single component. However, she also accepts that there are certain challenges inherent in her position, particularly as a woman:
“Young women might find it hard to see themselves in a long term career in engineering just because currently there aren't many women CEO or directors in the industry, but this is rapidly changing.”
This can leave female engineers feeling like they have to constantly prove themselves compared to their male counterparts to be fairly recognised and rewarded. She believes that as well as a strong engineering acumen “negotiation skills are vital” in order to excel and progress.
Melania is now a mentor to young women in the industry. She often finds that many do not feel confident enough to speak up amongst their male colleagues for fear of not being taken seriously. Melania wants them to embrace their differences:
“Our diversity is our key for success. Women's skills have been proven to contribute in an innovative way to problem solving and the industries are realising how important our contribution is for the long term success of their business.”
What advice has Melania got for females thinking of pursuing a career in engineering?
“I strongly recommend a career in engineering as the essence of the industry is to evolve by following new technologies, and being part of such a forward thinking environment will allow opportunities to grow technically and personally. Big engineering companies are investing in promoting women in engineering as they understand the unique value that we bring. Even though it is still a challenge, being a woman in engineering is a rewarding career with a growing trend to create opportunities for progression. I’m glad that I followed my aspirations and chose a career in engineering.”
Are you an engineer looking for a new role or thinking about getting into the industry and need some advice? Please browse our latest engineering job vacancies, read our insights or to find your nearest branch and to discuss your next move.