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The world needs more women engineers

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By Erum Noor Muzaffar
Tue, 07, 22

International Women in Engineering Day highlights a profession that keeps on building. You! takes a look…

The world needs more women engineers

Engineering is an interesting and exciting field. Progress in the engineering field has given us the benefit of living easier lives – from modern homes, complex bridges to super-fast cars to latest mobile technology and so on. Sadly, this field has always been dominated by men. According to latest stats, women are still majorly underrepresented in the field, with only 16.5 per cent of engineers being women. According to a recent World Economic Forum report, the share of women in computer and mathematical jobs is 23 per cent, and a mere 11 per cent in architecture and engineering jobs. However, women engineers are making some waves in this field against all odds.

Taking place annually on June 23rd, International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) is an international awareness campaign to raise the profile of women in engineering and focus attention on the amazing career opportunities available to girls in this exciting industry.

International Women in Engineering Day was launched for the first time in the UK on 23rd June 2014 by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) to celebrate its 95th anniversary. INWED has grown year by year, and has since achieved a global reach and UNESCO patronage. Now in its ninth year, INWED is all about celebrating women’s achievements in the traditionally male-centric field of engineering.

Team Formula Electric Racing Car (NUST)
Team Formula Electric Racing Car (NUST)

A little history:

For centuries, women have played an essential role as designers and builders of critical structures and machines even before the term ‘engineer’ was coined in the 11th century. However, fields, such as engineering, have been largely kept shut from women. Upon the establishment of educational institutions, most universities didn’t admit women until the early 1800s. But this has never deterred women from participating in the engineering sector. In 1876, Elizabeth Bragg, unfettered by the gender disparities and discrimination, became the first female recipient of an engineering degree when she got her bachelor’s in civil engineering from the University of Berkeley, paving the way for thousands of women of the 19th century who followed her lead. It wasn’t until the World War II that serious attention was paid to women’s education in technical fields. Even in the 21st century, STEM continues to be dominated by men. With the gruesome gender gap and hiring discrimination, women continue to endure struggles in this field.

The Pakistan Chapter:

Pakistan has one of the highest gender gaps in the world; however, women contributions are conspicuous in the engineering field despite all the challenges at multiple levels. Over the past few years, a growing number of females have entered the fields of STEM. We have brilliant women such as Ramla Qureshi - Civil Engineer with specialisation in Structural & Earthquake Engineering; Zartaj Waseem - CEO & Co-Founder Pakistan Space Science Education Centre; Zainab Imtiaz Ali - Materials Research Engineer; and Sadaf Ahmed - Director at Robotics Club Pakistan – to name a few.

While closing gender gaps and empowering women in the economy are central to the Sustainable Development of 2030 agenda, efforts are being made at national level. Women In Energy Pakistan (WIE), a home-grown professional network of women in the energy and power sector with 5,000 women professionals, is promoting women in the sector through the power of networking.

Team Formula Electric Racing NUST:

Though engineering is still considered a male-centric profession, girls at NUST (National University of Science and Technology) have proved this notion wrong. Every year thousands of Pakistani students apply to be a part of NUST, and only one percent makes it to the Institute. Amongst this one percent, there are always female candidates.

The good news is that Team Formula Electric Racing NUST, (FERN) a formula student team from National University of Science and Technology is now registered for the Formula Student UK 22 competition scheduled for 6 – 10th of July, 2022, at the Silverstone Circuit. Team FERN will compete in the Electric and Driverless Vehicle Category and will become the first team from Pakistan to do so. The team has the honour of representing Pakistan in 5 Formula Student competitions. The team currently consists of 40 members which includes10 women.

Formula Student UK is one of the world’s foremost Formula Student competitions. Taking place annually, the competition continues to challenge teams of university students to design, build and run a full-sized single seater race car, allowing them to develop their engineering, project management and team working skills on a real-world project. Teams from all over the globe come to compete; this year more than 130 teams from over 30 countries will participate in the competition at the home of British motorsport.

Laiba Asif
Laiba Asif

Since its inception, the team FERN has had an upward trajectory, from being the first electric team from Pakistan at Formula Society of Automotive Engineers to winning a podium at Formula Student Russia in August 2021. Founded eight years ago in 2014 by a group of high-spirited engineering students, Formula Electric Racing - NUST is a team that manufactures Electric Vehicles to compete in international student competitions. The team is currently based at NUST, in Karachi.

In the spirit of helping teams like FERN, A.P. Moller – Maersk has taken up the title sponsorship for the team and will be supporting the enthusiastic team to achieve their ambitious goals. Hasan Faraz, Managing Director, Maersk, commented during the unveiling of the car, “We are extremely proud to be supporting Team NUST in the journey to participate at the Formula Student UK this year. A green future is a shared vision for all of us and it is thoroughly encouraging to see how the next generation of techies are striving hard to realise that vision.”

Meet the five wonder girls from team FERN

‘Someday we’ll have a world where opportunities won’t be segregated based on gender’ – Zainab Shujaat, Electrical Engineer

Zainab Shujaat
Zainab Shujaat

Growing up I was always fascinated by the world of Engineering. Being an inquisitive child who would want to know the science behind everything drove my passion and helping my father while he fixed things around the house further increased my interest and curiosity to explore this field. Even though I wasn’t able to fix my old toys completely I remained persistent in my efforts, and in these efforts, I damaged a lot of home appliances which served as learning experiences. It was easy for me to choose my profession as I knew it from the beginning it had to be Engineering. My interest in Physics and Math pushed me to go for electrical engineering. I faced a lot of criticism but it did not deter me from doing what I loved the most. I joined NUST and discovered a magical place that was FERN’s office. This place was dreams come true for me – getting the opportunity to make a Formula Electric Vehicle. I was excited to be among the few shortlisted candidates for the evaluation phase. I knew I had to work extra hard to make myself stand out among all the other talented candidates and so I used to get my task progress reviewed from my assigned mentor. While spending time with the team, I quickly realised that the goal of this team was not just to make an electric vehicle but the vision behind this entire operation was far greater. The diverse environment at FERN was refreshing to see and also gave hope that someday we’ll have a world where opportunities won’t be segregated based on gender. During the manufacturing phase, while the team was pulling off nighters, I was forced to leave campus at 12. I used to feel guilty of leaving work early but I had no option but to follow the university rules. Here, a huge credit goes to my director, who used to assign me tasks in a way that I could work on site till 12 and later on could continue my work from home to support my team. This support offered by the team members is the real strength of the team and this is what Formula Electric Racing – NUST is all about.

‘There are many biases that we have to overcome while pursuing a STEM field in Pakistan’ – Tasbiha Zaman, Driverless Vehicle Lead

Tasbiha Zaman
Tasbiha Zaman

I entered university and during my first year I was only focusing on my academics but I saw some seniors and classmates working at FERN. Hearing their stories developed my interest in the team and I decided to give it a go. I joined mid-season as volunteer and my first task was to make a data logger system to track vehicle’s speed and few other parameters. The adrenaline rush that I felt while doing it assured me that I am at the right place. Later on, I worked on team’s Low Voltage Systems and then the Powertrain department. For the 2021-2022 season, the team had a plan of developing a driverless vehicle algorithm and luckily, I was assigned the lead on this project. We initially had no framework or direction to follow, but after extensive research we divided the team into 4 modules and set our milestones. I joined engineering with no clarity of what major to pursue but now I have a clear sense of direction. AI and Machine Learning is what I enjoy working with.

All we want is a world where we don’t have to go the extra mile to be taken seriously in a room of opportunities. There are many biases that we have to overcome while pursuing a STEM field in Pakistan but we are ready to challenge everything that comes our way and change the narrative.

‘Don’t let the world define possibilities for you’ – ` Asif, Mechanical Engineer

The decision of choosing a field considered unconventional for girls in Pakistan has often landed me in situations where I hear comments like mechanical engineering is not for girls, sometimes even from my teachers. I joined FERN with the prejudice that I’ll get to hear similar comments here as well but to my surprise this wasn’t the case. Since day one, never once I was kept on low priority or excluded from things. I am the only girl in the department and have been part of each and every thing my fellows have been through. This also gives me a sense of responsibility that I have to replicate a similar work environment for my junior female members and have to encourage more young girls around me to take up the opportunity coming their way and don’t let the world define possibilities for them.

‘Being treated equally empowered me to set even higher goals for myself – Saniya Mazhar, Marketing and Communications Director

Saniya Mazhar
Saniya Mazhar

For the last three years I have been with FERN, I discovered a side of me that I wasn’t aware I had. FERN recruited me when I was a freshman with zero experience or skill and my seniors turned me into a graphic designer. The team changed my perspective of seeing the world and provided me a platform to showcase my creativity, designs and ideas. Soon, I was assigned as the Head of Design and then assigned as the director of the marketing and communications department. My key responsibilities included designing timelines, coming up with campaign ideas, arranging road shows and managing events. From day one I was given complete autonomy and opportunity and was treated equal to my male counterparts, this empowered me to set even higher goals for myself, and is something I wish to see replicated in all aspects of our society. I hope to graduate and leave behind a department that meets the expectations of my seniors.

‘Engineering has equal opportunities for both men and women’ – Asma Noor, Team Manager

Asma Noor
Asma Noor

When I joined Formula Electric Racing – NUST back in 2018, I was confused, overwhelmed and unsure of what was expected of me. But that quickly changed when I was given responsibilities like any other member of the team. I was never disregarded from any important team discussion and my suggestions were always welcomed. This gave me the confidence to lead and I realised the importance of looking past the man-made barriers. Having spent four years with the team, I can confidently say that Engineering has equal opportunities for both men and women and anyone having the right motivation can make a difference. I take pride in seeing girls of my team taking responsibilities and proving that nothing can stop them from making a difference. I hope this trend continues to grow and we see more women engineers setting examples for young girls to follow!