International Women in Engineering Day is seen by many as a box to tick, a day to post something generic and claim they’re fighting the good fight. At Ground and Water, we are lucky enough to have the inspirational Dipalee Jukes in a leadership position, so we thought we should get her take on the subject: She speaks from experience, and with some authority:
What does International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) mean to you?
For me, it personally means I get to celebrate not only having started out as a female engineer, but I get to celebrate now being a female leader in this field along with having an opportunity to acknowledge and bring awareness of my cultural heritage within the industry.
The engineering and construction industry has a long legacy of being a predominantly white and male working environment up until recently. So, roll back 19 years to when I started out my career within the geotechnical industry, at five foot two inches tall, being Indian and female, I stuck out like a sore thumb and felt quite out of place. It’s sad to say that this feeling hasn’t shifted enough for me in 2022. I have only come across a few Indian female geotechnical engineers in my career to-date.
So, whilst we should all quite rightly celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, I would like to bring your awareness to the fact that in the UK, the engineering community does not fully represent the cultural diversity of our society.
How do we, as a collective, drive change in our industry and encourage more women, especially Black, Indian, and minority ethnic women, to take up a career in engineering?
Let’s be honest, on the surface, engineering and construction aren’t attractive to a lot of young girls – and I can understand why. The prospect of being out on site on your own or with lots of men, wearing PPE that doesn’t fit properly as it’s usually only made for men, having no access to toilets from time to time, navigating being on your period when out on site all day, a potential fear of having a male boss and/or all male colleagues that you can’t talk to about any of these female issues…. These are very real fears for females when they consider their work environment and therefore probably their careers to an extent.
I have finally accepted that I don’t need to fit into male working norms, I am Indian, female, a mother, a business leader, and an engineer. And I choose to bring all these sides of me to work along with all the challenges that go with them. As business leaders, we need to create safe spaces at work where women feel they can be heard, valued, and supported. The women don’t need to be changed; the systems do. I am so grateful that at Ground & Water, I can openly talk about periods, pregnancy, miscarriages, and menopause with my team. By going first and talking about my lived experiences with these topics, it breaks the stigma and allows others to be courageous with sharing their stories. It also allows us to find better ways of working.
I finally understand that I have a responsibility to be the change I want to see in the world. And I want to see representation of women and women of colour at all rungs in this industry as we will be the biggest drivers of change in engineering and construction to make it more inclusive and supportive for the female workforce.
One initiative I have taken on is to start a podcast with two of my industry colleagues, Era Shah at Costain and Malika Kapasi at Mace, both of whom are South Indian engineers. We will be showcasing the remarkable women of colour currently within engineering and construction, providing them a platform to share their stories in the hope this will inspire more women and young girls into the industry. The podcast will be launching this summer.
When my 4-year-old daughter dressed up as a scientist recently, she reminded me of the importance to keep going, keep being courageous, keep speaking up, and hopefully inspiring other women to do the same because representation matters. It truly does.
Let’s use INWED 2022 to drive the change we need to see in today’s world.