I’m a very fortunate person. I was born in a time when girls can receive an education. I was raised in a country where more than 60% percent of women are employed. I attended an all-girls high school with an inspiring physics teacher whose passion and enthusiasm were infectious.

If any one of these pieces was not in play, I would not be where I am today.

As a transportation engineer, the idea of going to work every day excites me. There are real world challenges to be solved that impact people’s lives. The projects I work on are monumental, and the physical evidence of my decisions will be visible in our infrastructure for decades.

Finding my ideal career, one where I can make a difference, has been incredibly empowering. But I’m also deeply disheartened when I hear about the lack of women in our industry. It’s not because I expect every person to be excited by physics or want to pursue a career in engineering, it’s because I know many women and girls are simply not exposed to the possibility of a STEM career.

For the past two years, I’ve been an ambassador for Futureintech, an organisation that promotes careers in technology, engineering and science by bringing people working in STEM-based industries (such as myself) into schools to share career stories and run workshops. Futureintech helps raise the visibility of STEM in an effort to address the skills shortage, with a particular focus on increasing the number of women entering these fields. Run by Engineering New Zealand, Futureintech will be implementing exciting changes to the programme, with one of its priorities to look at how to target Maori and Pasifika students who tend to be under-represented in STEM education.

One of my favourite experiences of being a Futureintech volunteer was holding a Disaster Proof Roads workshop for female high-school students identified as high achievers in science. As part of the workshop, students were given cardboard cut-outs of bridges, roads, bus lanes and other infrastructure elements with a cost associated with each element. The task was to build a resilient network within a certain budget. It was incredible watching the girls’ faces light up as they solved problems and realized what they could be capable of doing.

Futureintech allows me and my AECOM colleagues who also volunteer to share our experiences at a critical time in the lives of young people. I hope to return the favour one day and be that passionate and enthusiastic person who serves as a role model, sparking interest and uncovering new worlds.

This blog post is part of a series celebrating International Women’s Day 2018 and this year’s theme, #PressForProgress.

Originally published 03.7.2018

Author: Sarah Woodward