International Day of Women and Girls in Science is near. According to a recent study published by the Observatory of Engineering in Spain, the proportion of female engineers doesn’t exceed 20% of the total. Another concerning fact is that, although the presence of women in the profession has been growing over the past decades, there has been a slight loss of interest in becoming an engineer among young women in recent years.
Why is this happening? What can we do to attract more female talent to engineering careers? We have interviewed our colleague Carmen Ramírez, an Electronic Engineer. We wanted to know her point of view as a female engineer and professional with more than seven years of experience in a field as little known (but very important) as the certification of electrical and electronic products.
Why did you decide to study Electronic Engineering? Did you have any obstacles along the way?
In high school I considered a wide range of options. From studying an intermediate degree in Aesthetics or Tourism, to a degree in Physics, Chemistry or Engineering. Nobody in my family had studied at university. And I realized that my brother-in-law, who was an engineer, had answers to everything. He helped me with my physics homework, with English… Everything I asked him he knew how to do it. Or, at least, he was able to find a way to solve it. That impressed me and I thought, ‘I want this, I want to know a bit of everything’.
So, when I looked at my options I decided on engineering. And among the different fields that existed, I chose Electronic Engineering. I saw that it was a very complete career, where many different subjects were covered, and I liked that.
My family didn’t like my decision that much. I am the youngest, I have three older brothers. My parents were glad that I wanted to go to university, but they suggested that I should study a career that was ‘more for women’. Couldn’t you be a doctor, or a teacher? They insisted. They didn’t like the idea of their daughter being an engineer. Even my mother, when I was halfway through my degree, offered to pay for me to do a master’s degree to become a teacher. She still didn’t want me to go into engineering! But I turned a deaf ear.
Over time they accepted it, and now they are thrilled. Whenever something breaks at home, I’m the one who repairs it, or if they have questions about any electronic device, I help them. They can’t complain!
How was your time at university?
Some people have the false impression that to study engineering you must be a brilliant student, but it’s not true. I was an average student, but with time and effort you can achieve anything you want. One of the things that worked very well for me was to ask and ask until I really understood the topic I was studying. I was one of those students who went to the teachers’ offices all the time to ask questions. It was the only way to learn. If you just memorise something, but you don’t understand it, it’s useless. So that’s one of the pieces of advice I would give to any student; if you don’t understand, ask. Don’t be ashamed to ask.
During my time at engineering school I only had a few female classmates. Although those who were there were doing very well. I imagine it was because they were very determined to study this career. In fact, my perception is that women engineers, even though there are few of us, tend to have good jobs because we do very well in our studies and we put a lot of effort into them.
Why do you think so few young women choose STEM careers, particularly engineering?
I think there are many factors, but from my point of view the main one is education. For example, when I was a child we were not educated in the same way as boys. We were not given the opportunity to discover the same hobbies. I was given dolls and my friends were given microscopes. As it was a present, I liked it and the next birthday I would get another doll. This causes us to be unaware of other areas that could be of interest to us, such as car mechanics, computers or astronomy, areas that are normally introduced to boys regularly.
Nowadays this is not so frequent and more and more children are being educated in equality, avoiding this type of micromachism. Thus we can see more and more girls interested in science or technology. In addition, and although it is still not the most common, we find more and more female role models in positions that are normally male. When your mother, your technology teacher or your sister is an engineer, this helps you to have references and career options that you might not consider otherwise.
What do you do at WoodSwallow?
I was always attracted to the idea of working in a laboratory from an early age. I wasn’t sure how, or what I would have to study to work in one. But I finally managed to achieve it with hard work and dedication. Today I work in an electronics lab and I love my job.
More specifically, I am responsible for hardware testing and certification, or EMC Test Developer Engineer, and I have a team of engineers under my responsibility. Luckily I am in a very inclusive company and I have never had any problems in this regard, on the contrary.
When you say you are a female engineer, many people assume that you are a project manager or project leader, but not so much that you have technical skills more traditionally associated with men, such as PCB soldering. In my case, that belief is wrong, I know how to solder and I carry out a lot of laboratory tests with very complex and sophisticated equipment and instruments.
How is your day to day in woodswallow as an engineer?
My job is very versatile. At WoodSwallow we design and develop embedded systems and IoT products, with a particular focus on the field of smart energy metering and electric mobility. My job is to design and carry out a series of tests to check that these electrical or electronic devices will be able to achieve the required certification.
For example, we do a lot of work with the CE marking, which is the one provided by the European Union. This certification is one of the most demanding in the world. To obtain it, a series of very important quality and safety controls must be passed.
Part of my job is to ensure that, from the early stages of product design, these quality and safety requirements are considered so that, when the time comes to certify the product, it goes through without any problems, saving our clients a considerable amount of time and money.
To this end, we carry out all kinds of tests on devices before sending them to official certification laboratories. We carry out tests related to electromagnetic compatibility, safety, radiation, radiofrequency, among many others. This is what allows us to buy any electrical or electronic device in the European Union with the peace of mind that they are safe products with very high-quality standards.