Women make up just 8% of engineering roles, according to the Office for National Statistics. We want to change that, so read these inspiring stories from female engineers at BP and get the next generation involved.
Amrita Lulla, process safety engineer
Why are you an engineer?
I think my chief motivation has been the ability to make a material difference in improving people’s lives. I remember watching a documentary at the age of 15 where engineers built a device to capture water from fog in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth. The project allowed people to settle in a previously uninhabitable area.
I genuinely believe engineering is key to solving some of the biggest challenges we face in the twenty-first century such as climate change, clean water provision and energy security.
There were some influences pushing me in other directions. For example, my mum is a doctor and there was an unconscious bias from my family to steer me towards the medical discipline. It just wasn’t for me though and I was adamant about pursuing engineering instead!
One important factor that helped to convince me to pursue a career in engineering was work experience as a student. As well as giving me a taster in engineering, it also provided me with a chance to truly develop what some people call ‘soft skills.’
How can we encourage more girls to go into engineering?
I believe lack of awareness of engineering as a career path is one of the main issues. Traditional images are also hard to shift and there isn’t enough positive coverage of engineering and engineering role models in the media. Most science and engineering TV shows or media articles feature men, which reinforces the idea of engineering being a man’s world. A good example of change is a recent surge in women studying forensic science. This has been linked to strong role models on TV shows, so perhaps we need a female engineering detective show!
I also think that girls don’t appreciate that engineers are some of the highest-paid graduates and the employment rates for people with engineering degrees are very high. The numerical and problem-solving skills you acquire in an engineering degree are very much in demand in several different industries and an engineering degree opens doors.
How do you inspire more girls into engineering?
I have attended career fairs, given talks on engineering through BP’s School Link programme to primary and senior school children and have mentored an all-girl group from Surbiton High School as they carried out a six-month engineering project as part of the Engineering Education Scheme. I also recently mentored at Lampton School in Hounslow on a project for the Go4Set scheme.
A key driver for me is to give students the information that wasn’t available to me growing up – I wish someone had told me about chemical engineering earlier! I also believe engineering skills are going to be absolutely vital to address the challenges of sustainable development for a growing worldwide population. We need to engage students to be part of the solution as early as possible.
What advice would you give to girls considering GCSE and A level subject choices?
Don’t drop maths! Do your research and pick subjects that will allow you to apply for many different degree options. Try not to limit yourself by picking niche subjects at this stage since your interests might change over the years and you definitely want to leave your options open. Speak to people about their careers and subject options to get an idea of different routes available. Finally, always pick subjects you enjoy and are passionate about.
Hani Baluch, petroleum engineer
My interest in chemical engineering was sparked by my experience of the modern day Gulf War and its implications on society. It instigated my fascination with how oil is involved in many different aspects of our lives and led me to pursue a degree in chemical engineering (MEng) at Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine. I also spent a year abroad at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA, as part of my degree.
What I like best about my job as a petroleum engineer
Having the freedom to succeed in my role – making value adding changes. It is very satisfying for me to see the direct results of my work manifest on well stability and production figures. I also appreciate the opportunity to work with multifunctional teams within which there are varying degrees of experience.
Why is engineering a great career for females to consider?
I genuinely feel there are no barriers or restrictions for women progressing in this industry. I think there is a general stigma associated with women in the oil and gas industry but can say I have never felt at a disadvantage during my time at BP. Yes, the oil and gas industry does have a higher proportion of males to females, but if we do not encourage young women to pursue careers in science and engineering, this will never change!
If you have a keen interest, I would suggest trying to get work experience and internships to better understand the set-up of the industry and get a flavour of the different disciplines.
Anne Claudel, upstream technical auditor
In recognition of her achievements, Anne was presented with the Rising Star award for the oil and gas sector in June 2016.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in engineering?
My parents work in the health sector, there are no engineers in my family. After high school, I had to choose a field. I don’t like the sight of blood and I am not overly patient with people, so I decided that the health sector was not the best choice for me. The remaining options were business school or engineering school.
Besides the fact that I liked sciences in high school, part of the reason why I chose engineering is that I thought that, being a male dominated sector, it would be easier for a woman to stand out. Boy, was I right. A competent woman on the rigs is the queen!
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
There have been so many, and I expect them to keep coming. The people I meet, the countries I have lived in, the odd places and environments I have worked in are all highlights.
The oil and gas industry is inherently diverse in terms of ethnicity, culture, backgrounds and experiences. I recall this company man on a platform in the North Sea, with this white beard: I was stuck on the rig on Christmas day; he looked like Santa Claus. It took me some effort to gain his trust and to prove that I was technically capable. I still have the picture of us hugging before I flew off.
What advice would you give to young women who are considering a career in engineering?
In engineering, you will be able to prove your technical capability and add value by the soft skills you bring to work. Don’t think you have to be one of the boys if you want to succeed in engineering; you have to bring your whole self and you will make a difference. Just go for it.