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Empowering female engineers

female leader engineers

The founders of Female Leader Engineer want to see more women reaching top positions and a change of attitude in the engineering industry.

The engineering sector has long been a male-dominated industry and continues to be so, yet it is moving very slowly towards a balance. According to statistics from the Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers, one in every fourth engineer in Sweden is a woman and the proportion increases by a half percent each year. When it comes to climbing up the career ladder, however, the sexes are still competing on different terms. A fresh Swedish survey shows that seven out of ten female engineers find that men are given greater possibilities for promotion and career opportunities than women.

In order to outweigh the gender imbalance in the engineer business world, four engineers started the initiative ‘Female Leader Engineer’ with the aim to increase the number of women in higher positions. Caroline Bouzi, Madelen Ohlson, Sara Johansson and Evelina Ögren had previously been involved in a university gender equality initiative and together they decided to pursue the concept further.

Getting a kick start

Female Leader Engineer is an award for recently graduated engineers from the Royal Institute of Technology and Chalmers University of Technology. Twenty candidates go through a solid recruitment process and the winner of the title gets the possibility of a trainee program at three companies of choice based on the six partner companies; AstraZeneca, Ericsson, Fortum, Sandvik, Scania and Skanska. The winner also gets a coaching program at the executive search company Kvinnokompetensen.

“This is a great kick start for the career and a real challenge for the winner, getting professional experience and opportunities that would have been difficult to get otherwise. The trainee program isn’t an internship but is an actual job, where you are expected to deliver,” says Caroline Bouzi.

The twenty candidates of Female Leader Engineer are provided with study visits, networking opportunities, meeting CEOs and get exposed to different professional roles, explains Caroline Bouzi. The award creates a platform where the industry can meet and recruit women to leading positions early on, she says.

“We have invested a lot in creating a rewarding experience for all of the participants together with our recruitment partner Proximo. Each candidate gets access to an extensive network, personal development and is put into the spotlight. An equally important part is being an inspiration and acting as role model for other younger women who want to apply to engineering programs.”

Caroline Bouzi is herself a former winner of the Female Leader Engineer. She chose to conduct one of her three placements at AstraZeneca and has continued her professional career at the company. Today she works as a plant manager at a site outside of Manchester, leading production managers responsible for four packing lines, a manufacturing lab and manufacturing process of 50 machine operators and chemists. Equality and diversity has been on the agenda for some time at AstraZeneca. The corporation has initiatives to highlight both young employees and female coworkers, for example with the AZYouth network for co-workers under 30 years and the Brilliant Female Network that aim to motivate female talents to reach management positions at the firm.

“This is a way of making young and female aspirants visible, as well as a question of diversity,” says Caroline Bouzi. “AstraZeneca has a constant focus on these challenges, which also shows in the statistics; we have 47 percent representation of women in leading manager positions. Personally, I have also had good experiences when it comes to various possibilities at the company, such as working abroad, getting support for further professional development and taking on strategic projects.”

Creating awareness

Through her professional experience and the work with Female Leader Engineer, Caroline Bouzi has been connected with a number of engineering companies and it is quite clear that the rest of the industry is starting to see the value of equal opportunities. More corporations are making efforts to actively work with creating a balance. At the same time, the matter all too often stays at discussions at higher senior levels.

“Unfortunately, companies struggle to make tangible actions and realize them further into the company’s operations. It needs to become a natural part of the business. I think some important factors are breaking down old structures of how to recruit and develop people, being more flexible and listening to the needs of the employees.”

Caroline Bouzi believes that achieving a gender equal engineering industry is ultimately about increasing the awareness of how this can lead the company to further success.

“The whole organization needs to be imbued with a gender equal perspective. I think it’s important that those in leading positions with staff liability actually drive through changes at all levels and also look at how working groups are assembled, what the benefits are of diversity are and how this can be beneficial for the company. Besides creating a different dynamic and incorporating other perspectives and competencies. I believe a more diversified group also generates money. I also believe that this is a critical factor for success and to stay competitive in the business.”

Caroline Bouzi also says that part of the overall problem is also changing the general view of women as leaders – or as an engineer for that matter.

“The women I meet have no problem seeing themselves as leaders. The difficulty lies in this stereotypical image of both engineers and leaders, which has traditionally been dominated by men. Taking on either of those roles can be a surprise for many and as a woman you have more to prove. So far, there is a huge gap to fill when it comes to female role models and that’s why initiatives like Female Leader Engineer are so important. We are actually working to make a change. By identifying talents and connecting them to the industry we are laying a foundation for potential female leaders.”