IWD 2022: A perspective on equality, diversity & inclusion

2 min read

A holistic approach is required to support continued access to STEM opportunities for individuals from a range of different backgrounds, says Jessica Nanayakkara, Facility Operations Supervisor at Air Products.

It’s no secret that the engineering sector is male dominated, but it is continuing to become more diverse. According to Engineering UK, women make up 14.5 per cent of all engineers in the UK, representing a 25.7 per cent increase in women in engineering jobs (compared to a 4.6 per cent increase in the overall workforce) since 2016.

To continue on this trajectory and embed equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) at the core of the engineering sector, a holistic approach is required to support continued access to opportunities for individuals from a range of different backgrounds. What we know, from continued work at pace within the sector, is that true innovation and change is driven by teams of engineers collaborating and building solutions as a group. In relation to gender equality specifically, it’s not just an issue for women to solve – it’s for everyone to come together to level the playing field.

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International Women’s Day (IWD) is an important part of the drive for continued improvements in this space, by celebrating women's achievements, raising awareness against bias and taking action for equality. This year, IWD’s focus is on ‘breaking the bias’, a notion that I’m all too familiar with.

Outreach and awareness days like International Women’s Day will change the image of sectors like engineering. We’re facing a real opportunity to set a benchmark for how engineers of the future engage with the sector to enact change and drive further inclusivity for colleagues and peers.

I have always been excited by the possibilities that an engineering career provides, which can bring about real change. I know first-hand the difference outreach can make to someone’s life, and believe outreach and education are the key tools for enticing the best talent into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sectors. As a result, myself and colleagues have invested time and effort in delivering Air Products’ science outreach programme, performing liquid nitrogen demonstrations, attending careers fairs, panel discussions and further events to promote and encourage the next generation to consider engineering and manufacturing as a career.

By allowing people from all races and genders to come together and learn from each other we have a real opportunity to change the way we look at STEM sectors, drive innovation and create new solutions.

We have a real opportunity to change the way we look at STEM sectors

Throughout my chemical engineering career, I’ve has been passionate about proactively driving equality and diversity in the workplace, for example by using social media as tool to dispel stereotypes about the people who work in engineering and promote opportunities in the sector. I also try to inspire young girls by running a Girlguiding Brownie Unit as it enables me to share my passion for engineering while exciting young girls between ages of 7 and 10 about STEM.

As the first person in my family to go to university and study a STEM subject, I understand that even though I’ve took the traditional route to the profession, not everyone has to, so it’s important to build awareness about the variety of opportunities and routes available.

I am passionate about making STEM subjects accessible for girls and educating them about the multiple different pathways to a career in engineering such as work experiences and graduate schemes.

On a professional level I’ve been an IChemE Rep and Outreach Officer on the Graduate Council Leadership team, where I advised graduates on chartership queries and hosted the Engineering Work Experience Week in 2019, welcoming 16 students to learn more about an engineering career.

I’m far from being alone in relentless efforts to inspire and encourage girls into engineering. Engineering is increasingly becoming a sector where women are respected and valued, and alongside their male counterparts, working together to break the bias.

Jessica Nanayakkara, Facility Operations Supervisor at Air Products