Monday, 28 April 2014

What's the worst that could happen?



A few weeks ago, I was invited to the National Engineering and Construction Recruitment Fair at the NEC in Birmingham to give a presentation about my career and to talk about the issues faced by women in a male dominated industry. The career bit was easy; I talked about my school and my time at the University of Nottingham, my placements with the E.ON graduate scheme and my current job in gas field development. 

The second part of the presentation was a bit more challenging and required much more pre-preparation and thought. I always get asked the question about issues and problems faced by women in male dominated environments and I always struggle to answer. Personally, I don’t think I have faced any gender related issues at work. There could be several explanations for this: maybe I am lucky in my company, or maybe problems will develop later on in my career and I will hit a ‘glass ceiling’. Maybe these issues are there and I just haven’t noticed them, or is it down to my general attitude towards work and life? I would like to believe it’s that last one and as long as I continue to be respectful and understanding towards my colleagues, deliver a high standard of work and most importantly enjoy what I do, there will be no problems.

You’re probably thinking that sounds too easy, where are the women engineers then? Well there is another dimension here, I think a lot of women (myself included) worry too much, we worry that we’re not good enough, that we won’t fit in, that we will look stupid if we say the wrong thing. The worry turns to fear and the resulting actions are a) keeping quiet when we have an opinion or a good idea because we don’t believe it’s of any value, b) sticking to the safe choices. This is utterly ridiculous and we have to stop doing it! 

The older I get, the more I believe in speaking up, taking risks and choosing the unsafe option. The more I do it, the easier it becomes. Like any other habit or activity, it is a matter of practise. I often speak up even though inside I am not sure I am saying the right thing, but in most cases I realise that I have said what was on everyone else’s mind.

I have taken decisions which at the time seemed terrifying and made me wonder what the hell I was doing, but I have absolutely no regrets. The things that went well were amazing, and the things that didn’t go so well were valuable lessons.

Some of the women engineers I spoke to after my presentation broke my heart. They were bright, intelligent, funny young women who lacked the confidence to match their talents. My point is that we have to actively stop worrying so much and start taking risks. Following the crowd will never get us ahead of it. The next time you have an opinion, an idea or an opportunity to ask a question I urge you to speak up. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?