Women, engineering and politics

ICE Fellow, Anusha Shah, describes a gathering of women engineers in Parliament which she attended last month and discusses the role of engineers in politics.

Representatives from across the profession meet in Parliament to celebrate women in engineering.
Representatives from across the profession meet in Parliament to celebrate women in engineering.
  • Updated: 01 August, 2016
  • Author: Anusha Shah, CH2M, Head – Stakeholder Engagement and Consents, Thames Estuary Asset Management 2100 Programme (TEAM2100)

Women in engineering has been a topic of debate in our industry for quite some time now. Being passionate about this subject, I have been an active participant in various sessions. Last month, I along with a select group of women engineers were invited by the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn and Chi Onwurah MP, a chartered electrical engineer herself for a parliamentary reception to meet various MPs and celebrate the contribution women make to engineering. This event offered a fantastic opportunity to meet and share stories with vibrant female engineers from diverse backgrounds.

Chi's joy in seeing so many women engineers in one room was quite apparent, she introduced the evening by sharing her personal story of her transition from engineering to politics and said, "This was the greatest concentration of women engineers in Parliament ever!"

'Look for the next woman engineer'

For Angela Rayner MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equality, seeing all of us was inspirational and therapeutic. Drawing a parallel between women in engineering and her efforts to bring more women into politics, she asked us to look for the next woman engineer, mentor her and tell her what amazing things we do. She also expressed her desire to double the number of women at a similar reception next time.

'No ceilings that women can't break'

ICE Fellow, Anusha Shah with the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn MP
ICE Fellow, Anusha Shah with the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn MP

Amidst huge applause, Angela introduced Jeremy Corbyn saying that despite being in the middle of a political storm, he kept his commitment to host this event as it was a cause very close to his heart.

The anticipation and excitement of listening to Jeremy was palpable and we were in for an inspiring, thoughtful and refreshing talk interspersed with a lot of wit and humor. Coming from a family of engineers, he expressed his passion for engineering and encouraging more women into the profession. He talked about how vital the process of engineering has been to our history and the way it frames our economy and political debate. He made a point about encouraging kids to create things and letting their imagination flow, saying they shouldn't just admire engineering marvels on television or the internet, but should dream to be a part of it.

His confidence in women was visible when he said, "women can make the very best of their lives and there are no ceilings they can't break." He emphasized the need to create a more desirable perception about engineering in society and tackle under-investment in the industry.

I agree with Jeremy when he said women engineers from a diverse group need to be on boards of companies. I believe women engineers as leaders will not only represent views and aspirations of half the population, but also bring in fresh ideas and newer ways of thinking.

This will pave way for high levels of creativity and innovation in our industry.

Engineers in politics

Towards the end of the event, I increasingly felt that engineers can play a vital role in politics.

We can help introduce the "why" question within parliament as an important prelude to key decisions, something which governments often struggle with. Effective and honest politics is what's required in present day leadership. Engineers with their blend of problem solving abilities, fact based decision making and experience of working in multi-disciplinary teams can help make political leadership more open and inclusive. Confident women engineers with these qualities coupled with their inherently collaborative nature and a high emotional quotient can bring a lot more to the table.

The more I think about engineers getting into politics, the more excited I feel about how we can help government address complex global challenges like climate change, water scarcity and energy crises, and contribute to major decisions on our infrastructure and environment.

I believe more engineers, more women engineers and more women engineers in politics is the logical progression.