'I do my engineering in high heels not a hard hat'

Posted on 07/11/2019 by IED

By Bill Wilson, Business reporter, BBC News

The clichéd image of an engineer is of a man in a hard hat, but one female engineer says she is more likely to wear high heels to work.

Pavlina Akritas is a lighting designer at multinational firm Arup, and she has been helping to highlight the lack of women in engineering.

The Royal Academy of Engineering says many young people think of the work as technical and boring.

It says that has left a skills shortage of about 50,000 people a year.

At present just 12% of engineers are women, and 9% from an ethnic minority background. That is why the academy launched its This is Engineering Day to change stereotypes.

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"If you google 'engineer' you only see these hard hats, but personally if I was asked how many times I wear a hard hat, it's probably two weeks per year," says Ms Akritas.

"On other occasions, I wear my heels - I like my heels - and my dresses."

The globetrotter, who grew up in Cyprus before studying in the US and UK, says her job "gives me an opportunity to work in many different countries".

She has also featured in the 100 Influential Women in Engineering list, drawn up by Inclusive Boards.

Complex problem-solving

The academy is now working with lots of big brands in the media, in advertising and recruitment to encourage "more representative" images of engineers.

Hayaatun Sillem, chief executive of the academy, says the role is varied and that it is a "well-paid profession".

"Engineering is a great foundation," she says. "You're really employable if you're an engineer, so it's not surprising that people who study engineering go on to work in other areas.

"That's great, we need people with those skills right across our economy," she adds. "We also need enough of them going into engineering."

One of the main barriers to young people pursuing a career in engineering is a deeply-rooted cultural perception of the profession as mechanical, too technical and boring, an outdated view that is being reinforced online.

But Michelle Hicks, a rollercoaster designer at Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey, said the industry's grimy reputation was undeserved.

"That's one of the biggest misconceptions. The role of an engineer is so varied," she said.

"For me, it can be from going to design team meetings, complex problem-solving, to being out on site.

"But when you're on site as an engineer, it's very much looking at what's going on, is it built to specification. It's not [about] getting dirty at all."

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