Articles • 6 mins read
To mark International Women‘s Day 2023 UKAS interviewed Caroline Hamilton, Chief Executive at the Safety Assessment Federation and Chair of our own Policy Advisory Forum and Council. In this interview, Caroline touched on the progress that has been made in the engineering sector to promote and empower women in the workforce. Caroline also shared her own career path within engineering and the role played by the PAC and PAF.
- Do you think (and if so how) that International Women’s Day has helped to raise awareness of opportunity for women in the engineering sector?
I believe if you want to get a message across then you need to be chanting it continuously. Although an individual day may focus attention on the topic, one day solely won’t do the job, but it won’t harm either!
- What advice would you give to young women who are considering a career in engineering?
Go for it! If a young woman is at the point they are considering it then they have most likely researched it enough to understand what it is and what career opportunities are open to them in the future. It is well researched that girls in STEM will research and decide whether they can do something before they do it, whereas boys will be more likely to just ‘have a go’.
- What are the most important qualities for success in engineering?
A curious mind. Engineers are inherent problem solvers. How different individuals go about the problem solving can vary and this also applies to what stage they want to take the problem to, some people are starters and some are finishers. I think this is why engineers are also good team players, they are happy to share the overall problem solving with others knowing they will have a particular part to play and they will do it well, then others will fill in the gaps.
- What has been your biggest achievement in engineering?
Earlier in my career I probably would have said achieving chartered status, or obtaining a further academic qualification (I studied for a post graduate diploma while working full time). Could my biggest achievement be that I am a role model? I went to the small local school, and I am from a remote and rural place, where everyone knows everyone. I hope that in some way I am a role model and I am showing others what is possible as I would consider myself successful, though that doesn’t come without hard work.
- How do you think the engineering sector can become more inclusive to women?
In my experience the engineering sector is inclusive to women. I am by no means saying that there aren’t issues with inclusivity but I haven’t personally experienced them. I have encountered environments where it is male dominated (in numbers) but I have not had to overcome any inclusivity obstacles. Therefore, I have a personal struggle trying to figure out the aim for inclusivity initiatives, and as such it is a topic where I would always be willing to discuss and hear the views of others.
- How have you seen the engineering sector change in terms of gender equality in the last decade?
Again, a question I find difficult to answer – what is meant by gender equality? I would go as far as saying that at times women in engineering may receive positive bias, for example in an interview where they performed as well as a man they may get the job as there is a desire to have more women statistically. In all honesty, I am not comfortable at all with this and would be appalled at the thought I was promoted or offered a job on the basis I am female. Everyone should succeed based on merit and there should be procedures and processes in place to ensure everyone is treated fairly, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity.
- What do you think can be done to encourage more women to pursue a career in engineering?
Everyone, not just women, need to truly know what engineering is and can be for them. There are stereotypes and they are largely not true. When I say I am an engineer I have often got the comment returned ‘oh, my car needs fixed’. Engineering is about using your brain, not necessarily getting your hands dirty or wearing overalls. There are many initiatives to improve awareness, but I do think it needs to start very early to help young people realise that engineering is an option. However, I think there also is the need to raise awareness amongst parents who may be the ones that only know about the stereotypes and not the real opportunities for their child.
- What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering?
People that know me and read this will already know the answer – my Dad! My dad was a welder / fabricator when I was a child and I was his shadow. I literally followed him on his career as he progressed through supervisory and management roles, before finishing his career in the nuclear sector as a commissioning engineer. At the age I am now he was still welding and said to me ‘you won’t be in a pipe trench welding when you’re my age’ and then made sure I spent time with various professionals such as project managers and archaeologists to gain an informed decision of my direction in life. As such, I chose to study Mechanical Engineering at university.
- What is the value of the Policy Advisory Council?
Throughout these questions you may have seen a theme of problem solving, sharing and team work. I do not know why anyone would ever try to do something alone, and therefore my thoughts of the value of the PAC is to bring together all those who have an expert view on specific areas, but also are able to critique and question others. As an engineer we always have a solution, but the power is that when others are involved in decision making and forming a solution there are many opportunities for it to be improved.