BRIGHT SPARKS unearthing the future of engineering
NADA KALAM AND MIRANDA GEORGE
Between mid-year exams and weighing up employment offers, two Victorian engineering students spoke with Resource People about what attracts young women to the resource industry. THEY MAY BE enjoying their final year at the University of Melbourne, but it won’t be long until Miranda George and Nada Kalam are travelling across the country to engineer Australia’s largest resource projects. Mechanical engineering student George will start her graduate placement with QGC in Queensland next year, while electrical engineering whiz Kalam has been snapped up by leading firm WorleyParsons. Both women attribute their interest in engineering to male figures in their lives who were at the top of the field. George’s leading role model was her father, who runs his own manufacturing company, and her grandfather who spent many years in Australia’s engineering sector. Kalam is also following in her father’s footsteps. Without this personal exposure to the possibilities within the industry, they both admit they likely would not be travelling down this path. They share a similar opinion to many within the resource industry – that there is not enough being done in early childhood to attract more young women to the industry. “I really believe that interest starts in early childhood development. I find it incredibly frustrating when you look at the range of activities and toys that boys and girls engage in at a young age. They’re still very gender-specific,” says 22-year-old George. “The boys are really more driven towards thinking ‘I am going to build something and move it around; I am going to put it together and I am going to pull it apart’. Girls, however, are encouraged to play with dolls. “If you carry that on right through later childhood and early teenage years, generally those same sorts of stereotypes still exist and are suddenly emphasised with the majority of girls doing social sciences and the boys doing the maths/science classes. Then you get to university and we wonder why we have no females in engineering.” 23-year-old Kalam has spent time coordinating events for an industry-led ‘Endeavour Program’, which promotes engineering to the wider community, including primary and secondary school students throughout Victoria. She says that in her school life, career planners had actively tried to talk her out of a career in engineering. “I went to an all-girls school where engineering was discouraged, if anything. I was told that it wasn’t for me and that I should do medicine,” says Kalam.
“After this, I went to a ‘women in engineering’ seminar and took my careers coordinator along. She was amazed – she saw that you could actually do meaningful projects. I think it really comes down to educating staff as well as students; a lot of careers coordinators at girls’ schools are not good at this promotion.” Considering that 24 per cent of Victoria’s top-scoring female students are educated in all-girls schools, Kalam’s case is a worrying anecdote for the industry. However, the buck doesn’t stop with school programs. George and Kalam agree the engineering sector should be promoting the role of engineers in the community and their expertise far more greatly. Kalam is amused that her young niece still believes that an electrical engineer fixes light bulbs, while George says many women think if they are ‘not very hands-on’, they won’t make a good engineer. “This is not right at all. We need females in engineering, because we think differently to men and the way that we look at our problems is generally much more holistic,” says George. “I think this is why women do so well in management roles, and that’s often where they would like to go because that’s where they feel they can naturally maximise how they think, and use it to their advantage.” Both students are again in agreement with what attracts young people to a particular employer – sustainability, opportunity and culture. Kalam, who will get her start with WorleyParsons, believes she will be genuinely valued, and is quick to assert that graduates should not just be viewed as a purchasable commodity. George on the other hand is excited to join QGC after being impressed by the attitude of the employees at the BG Group subsidiary’s assessment centre and focus on sustainability. The pair were again in chorus on the gender diversity issue, saying the thought of ‘working onsite with the blokes’ is not at all daunting, and that a job with room to move internationally is a big drawcard. As shortages of engineers continue to plague the resource industry, the open-ended stories of students like Kalam and George certainly seek to brighten the future. If only the industry can attract many more just like them. The ball is in our court.
| Spring 2012 | www.amma.org.au