Women on the ground

Women on the ground

Professional team Engineer managers workers working outdoors wit

In the field, in a laboratory or office, Capacity celebrates some of the women in engineering, working hard to keep us all connected.

When it comes to women in engineering, the global picture remains low.

While things continue to improve, in the UK women make up only 16.5% of engineers, according to the Women in Engineering Society. In the US, this percentage is around 17% as of 2021, according to the United States Census Bureau.

The organisation, African Women in Science and Engineering, says that the number of women in science and engineering in Africa is less than 20%, despite making up more than half of the population and the majority of its workforce.

Looking more broadly at STEM careers, in Latin America and the Caribbean 45% of all researchers are women, while in Asia the exact statistics were a little harder to pin down.

This year's International Women in Engineering Day the theme is that of #makesafetyseen and safety is never more important than to those in the field, and on the ground, particularly in the telecoms space.

Paige Edwards - HED.png

Paige Edwards, streetworks compliance engineer, Giganet

...there is absolutely no reason why this should prevent females from pursuing a career in engineering...

Paige Edwards - ENG.jpg


Meet Paige Edwards, streetworks compliance engineer for Giganet, a UK-based Internet service provider. At the time of speaking Paige is 6-months pregnant, presenting a unique set of challenges in her engineering role.

With day-to-day tasks that include monitoring and auditing Giganet's build partner live sites, inspecting the quality of reinstatement and the construction of its underground apparatus, its a rather physically taxing role.

"This means working closely with civil engineers and supervisors to ensure compliance with highway legislation and Giganet specifications," says Edwards.

As her responsibilities involve working around loud machinery, excavation, underground services and road works as well as physically demanding tasks such as long walk offs and heaving lifting, adjustments needed to be made.

"Thankfully, Giganet have been excellent in providing support to help me to adapt to my current abilities and have put further health and safety measures in place to manage the risks and prevent any harm to me or my baby," Edwards says.

"For example, regular breaks, changing to hybrid working and assistance with the heavy lifting when required."

Edwards journey into engineering, was by happenstance. Having studied sociology at University, with intention to become a social science teacher, she says that "after leaving education my career path took a different turn, and I happened to fall into the telecoms space".

She also doesn't recall being encouraged to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses such as civil engineering, but that she is seeing greater intervention across our schools, in the hope of steering more females into this career path, "which is delightful to see as it will play part in closing the gender pay gap".

If she were to do her education over again, she says she would have done something in the way of an engineering apprenticeship, believing that on-the-job training has been the most valuable of all.

Admittedly Edwards faced a little bit of prejudice when she first started in the role, with the fact that she's young, a woman and (at the time) new to the job all working against her.

"I don't think I coped with it very well," she explains. There were so many points in my career that I thought, this isn't for me. But that was all in my head. Essentially, I had to grow thick skin and earn my respect out there."

Edwards reminds us that "there is absolutely no reason why this [being pregnant] should prevent females from pursuing a career in engineering, as there is legislation and a due duty of care in place to ensure that expectant mothers are not discriminated against."

Aima Owen - HED.jpg

Aima Owen, chapter lead, BT Group

To women and girls considering a career in engineering, I would say that once you are equipped with your qualifications, the world is your oyster.

Aima Owen - ENG.png

Office bound

Despite her role being more management-based these days, Aima Owen, chapter lead at BT Group and qualified engineer, remembers well the challenges of being a woman in the field.

"When I was an apprentice, I did face challenges as a female engineer," says Owen.

"The industry is predominately male-dominated, and I encountered comments suggesting that I would eventually transition to an office job rather than being out in the field like the men."

While in boarding school in Nigeria, she initially dreamed of becoming a doctor, those hopes were scuppered when her dad broke the news that becoming a doctor would require an extended period of study.

"…it takes some serious time to become a doctor! Who’d have thought?! This made me reconsider, and when I moved to England at the age of 18 to attend college, I started to explore other possibilities," she says.

Her career took her to study Electronics and Communications Engineering at the University of Wolverhampton, before joining the army, and in 2009, she became a Vehicle Mechanic Engineer in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineer Corps.

After 5 years in the army, she then landed an apprenticeship at Openreach as an Infrastructure Delivery Engineer, which she says was her gateway into joining BT Group.

"Despite juggling a busy home life (fell pregnant with my first child), I was able to complete all three years of my apprenticeship in just one year," she says.

Owen hasn't looked back since and now leads transformation projects across the business, a job she says, "involves balancing numerous demands and making quick decisions, prioritising effectively".

She credits many of her 'exclusively male managers' as playing "crucial role in shaping who I am today. They provided me with the opportunities to gain experience in various areas and offered the support I needed".

At the same time, she acknowledges that balancing work and home life can be difficult at times, and there have been occasions where she's come home and her children are already in bed, and she didn’t get to see them, which can be tough.

"Fortunately, I have an amazing support system that helps me maintain a balance between career and family. Without them, I can honestly believe I wouldn’t have achieved the level of success I have today,” she expains.

Ultimately, it’s the diverse range of projects, the opportunity to collaborate with people from all over the world and share knowledge, that makes her love her job. This topped with the constant evolution of engineering field, keeps Owen on her toes.

"To women and girls considering a career in engineering, I would say that once you are equipped with your qualifications, the world is your oyster," Owen says.

"The applications of engineering are limitless, so you have the freedom to pursue your desired career path and go wherever you want."


Lisa Hamilton - HED.jpg

Lisa Hamilton, fibre designer, Neos Networks

This is really important to me, as a mother to a young daughter. I want her to know that all career paths are open to her.

Lisa Hamilton - ENG.jpg

For the daughters

Lisa Hamilton is a fibre designer at Neos Networks, a role that see her planning and designing cable routes for customers and for the expansion of Neos Networks’ network.

"My primary responsibility is essentially to future-proof our fibre network to allow future expansion of services in the most cost-effective way possible, and to give us the best network possibilities for future digital developments like 5G/6G, AI and automation to name a few," she says.

"My role also involves attending network and customer sites to carry out internal surveys, to ensure designs are as accurate as possible and provide confidence to our customers that solutions can be delivered."

As a qualified Certified Fibre Characterisation Engineer, she has also completed BT PIA training, S0006 (PIA Duct Survey), S007 (PIA SubDuct and Cable Installation) and SA002 (Underground Safety), which enables her to understand the works Neos contractors are completing out on the street and the problems they may come across.

Like many in space, Hamilton's career journey has been anything but linear. After finishing school at 16, she started working as a legal secretary, commenting "I don’t even remember telecoms being a career option for me back then".

After a moderate stay in administrative work, she moved into change nanagement at Thus Plc, which was here first foray into telecoms, now 16 years later and she hasn't looked back.

"That role was the first time I was able to understand how telecoms and networks actually work," she explains.

"I was responsible for dealing with network outages, notifying customers about potential disruption. This gave me a fantastic understanding of how the sector operates, and from then, I was hooked!"

Despite the obvious challenges of being a female engineer in such a male-dominated field, she credits Neos Networks as place where diversity is not only supported but celebrated.

"The business ensures it supports working mothers and women in engineering roles in general," she says. "This is so important to ensuring we’re attracting the talent of the future and opening these doors for women engineers who will follow me."

Speaking of the generation of women to come, Hamilton has a particularly compelling reason to break down as many barriers as she can, and that's her daughter.

"If it’s [engineering] something that interests you and it’s what you enjoy, that’s the most important thing. Not what society and gender norms expect of you. This is really important to me, as a mother to a young daughter. I want her to know that all career paths are open to her."


Lucy_Doherty - HED.PNG

Lucy Doherty, automation engineer, Virgin Media O2

Within the telecoms industry there are many types of engineering that you could go into ... it's important to understand where you see your skills and interests fitting in.

Personal misconceptions

Feelings of imposer syndrome, self-doubt and uncertainty are common when it comes to pursuing technical roles, especially among women. This was also the case for Lucy Doherty, automation engineer at Virgin Media O2, who at the time of applying for the Early Careers Technology graduate programme at O2, confesses to feeling "intimidated and nervous".

These feelings were due to her "own misconceptions about what I thought it would be and if I could do it but having been in an engineering role for a few years now, I’m glad I challenged myself, left my comfort zone and took on the role".

This misconception of engineering is one that also comes from others, but through her experience in the role she now sees that engineers are curious, inquisitive, detail-oriented, and creatively-solve problems every day.

"If I personally had known that before I challenged myself and entered an engineering role, I would have been less reluctant and more confident in my own ability to work as an engineer," she says.

Having graduated from University with a degree in IT, the world of telecoms wasn’t a million miles away from her field of study.

In her current role, Doherty explores how automation technology can be used to improve network performance and the experience Virgin Media O2 customers receive, and how the value and benefits that come from implementing automation can be realised.

"I work collaboratively with teams and stakeholders from across the business, to understand the current issues we are facing and how we can use automation technology to resolve them," she says.

With so many more routes (university courses, graduate programmes, and apprenticeship schemes) now available to women and girls looking to get into engineering, Doherty says it's important to understand what type of engineering interests you.

"Within the telecoms industry there are many types of engineering that you could go into, including field engineering, software engineering, network engineering, and lots more. So, it's important to understand where you see your skills and interests fitting in."

For the women that have already made it to the otherside of their engineering journeys, she encourages them to get involved with external organisations such as the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), "because they provide a fantastic forum for networking with other female engineers and provide opportunities to learn about engineering across industries".


Vanesa Diaz - HED.jpg

Vanesa Diaz, CEO, LuxQuanta

It is within the cultural mosaic of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc, where the strength for a genuinely disruptive and continuous innovation resides in a deep-tech company.

Vanesa Diaz - ENG.jpg

The cultural mosaic

LuxQuanta, a European developer of Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) technology, is spearheaded by CEO Vanesa Diaz, a member of engineering community.

With a masters in telecommunications engineering, her initial plan was to follow in her parents’ footsteps and become a doctor, but eventually, her teachers convinced her to get an engineering degree instead as “I was quite good at maths”, she says.

Once she got a foot in the door she remained working in telecoms engineering for 5 years, with one her last roles as an R&D engineer for a manufacturer of antennas for mobile communications, before pursuing more commercial roles.

"For the women that have joined LuxQuanta, I try to lead by example, by remaining loyal to myself, and sharing the light and the shadow [good and bad] when it comes to the specific difficulties that we face being women in this industry," Diaz says.

With days that are filled with "simultaneously wearing multiple hats" her role spans "commercial strategy, aligning it with our technical team, managing the relationship with current and potential investors, and supervising our marketing and operations departments", its clear that no one day is like another.

Despite having the letters CEO after her name, Diaz is still not exempt from the biases of technical roles and engineering. Commenting on the 'boy-club' culture that still exists today, she says, "once you are in, you do have to work twice as hard to gain a strong reputation" but she acknowledges that its becoming less common and people are becoming more aware.

Its interesting to hear about yet another time when a women in this industry was in a meeting and either assumed to be the assistant or some other less authoritative role.

However in Diaz's case, it was to the point where the other party didn’t speak to her at first, directing their questions towards her male colleagues, until they noticed that was the one giving the answers and then included her fully in the conversation.

But we are all guilty of such assumptions as Diaz recalls meeting a woman at a conference in Paris about quantum technologies, "she was surprised when she learned that I was the CEO of LuxQuanta. Well, it turned out that she was a CEO herself and that hadn’t crossed my mind. How biased we all are, all of us, including me!"

Authenticity reigns supreme to Diaz when it comes to her approach to inclusion and diversity, anything less is a disservice.

"Blending in with the male stereotypes and disintegrating ourselves in the process is not favouring inclusion, in fact, is killing the very concept of diversity," she explains.

"It is within the cultural mosaic of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc with its diverse perspectives and opinions, where the strength for a genuinely disruptive and continuous innovation resides in a deep-tech company."

Join the ride

International Women in Engineering Day turns 10 this year, it's easy to pass off the day as just another social holiday, but in the world of telecoms especially, we recognise the importance of engineers who build, operate and maintain the very fabric of our networks.

“Imagine a world without internet or mobile communications. It is difficult to imagine how individuals and businesses will function even for a few hours," comments Dimitra Simeonidou, UKTIN lead for UK research capability; director of the Smart Internet Lab, co-director of Bristol Digital Futures Institute, University of Bristol.

"Telecoms Engineers make it all happen and they make it look easy most of the time. This is a sector of talented, passionate, innovative and collaborative professionals. Our work underpins the safety and growth of our society and economy.”

For women in particular she believes there are so many advantages. Firstly, technology is fast moving and the demand for innovation is endless, there is never a dull moment, and most importantly, do not hesitate, you will have the “ride of your life”.

Gift this article