Mentoring prepares women for the workforce

30 October 2018
Students received professional mentoring in an Engineering first
The 2018 Women's Mentoring Program connects female engineering students with alumni mentors to learn valuable insights, helping them navigate the transition from the university lab to the workplace.
SUWIE aims to empower female engineering students by creating a supportive network and career development opportunities

SUWIE aims to empower female engineering students by creating a supportive network and career development opportunities

The University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering and IT has recently wrapped-up its Women’s Mentoring Program for 2018. 

Over six months, the program connected female engineering students with alumni mentors who offered coaching, practical tips and guidance on how to navigate a traditionally male-dominated workplace.

The program was initiated by Hannah Mourney, former president of the Sydney University Women in Engineering Society (SUWIE) and Biomedical Engineering/Arts student with the goal of helping female students prepare for their future careers in engineering.

“I had a lot of opportunities in front of me that made me question what I wanted to do after graduation and how I should be engaging with my industry to best prepare my career,” Mourney said.

“Mentoring is important for women in every industry, but it is vital for those that have been historically male-dominated – I wanted advice from someone who had been in my situation and who could offer a second opinion."

While mentees learnt practical information about the workplace, Biomedical Engineering student, Isabella Juria, said that having a positive role model was one of the more important aspects of having a mentor.

“My mentor not only shared practical advice but some of the deeper aspects to her career, such as how to be confident in the workplace, how to balance perfectionism with efficiency, and the importance of remembering the wider impact of your work.

“Mentoring was encouraging and empowering because I got to see someone I can relate to achieve a career that I also aspire to achieve.”

“As minorities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), it can be easy for women to doubt the validity of their goals and ambitions but seeing other women at the top makes you think, ‘if she can do it, maybe I can do it too!’” she said.

My mentor not only shared practical advice but some of the deeper aspects of her career.
Isabella Juria, Biomedical Engineering student

Mentoring Isabella was Emma Connell, University of Sydney alumna and Senior Systems Engineer for medical device company, Cochlear, who believes the mentoring program allows students to gain a real understanding of the industry, helping bridge the gap between the classroom and the workplace.

"When I was studying, I wasn't too sure what working in the industry involved, and didn't find out until my first engineering internship," said Connell.

While women make up a minority in the industry – just 12 percent of practising engineers according to Engineers Australia – the University of Sydney's Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology has boosted its proportion of female students studying engineering to over a third, the highest in the country.

The numbers are even greater in biomedical engineering, where female students are now a majority—making up over 50 percent of all undergraduate enrolments.

Hannah Mourney is eager for the industry to reach gender parity, believing early encouragement to be the key ingredient in attracting more female high school students to engineering.

“The way to do this is by encouraging young girls to play with technology, as well as be confident in their STEM and problem-solving skills,” she said.

The need for more women in the industry is paralleled by electrical engineering academic and Director of the Centre for IoT and TelecommunicationsProfessor Branka Vucetic.

“Engineers are very creative – I’d like to see more talented young women choosing engineering as a career.

“Not only can a career in engineering be interesting and exciting, but it can also be secure and provide many different opportunities,” she concluded.

Based on the success of this year’s program, the Sydney University Women in Engineering Society will be seeking further opportunities to connect female students with industry experiences in 2019.

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