Women engineering a bright future at Pacific Hydro

24 April 2014

According to recent statistics, just 12 per cent of engineers in Australia are women.*

Although this is a small increase on previous years, the profession has a long way to go to match the number of women working in other industry sectors.

We spoke with Kate Summers, Manager Electrical Engineering, at Pacific Hydro to find out why she chose to become an engineer and what she thinks can be done to increase the number of females entering the profession in future.

1. Why did you decide to become an engineer?
When I went back to university as a mature age student, I wanted to study for a degree that had a career at the end of it. I had previously completed some electronic studies and had a general interest in electrical engineering, but it wasn’t until I was encouraged to apply for a SECV scholarship by the Dean of the College that I committed to Power System and Control Engineering as my primary discipline.

2. What does a normal workday look like for you?
I am not sure that there is a normal workday at Pacific Hydro, apart from my routine morning coffee! It varies every day, which makes for a good challenge.

3. What do you like most about your job?
I like the challenges of the electricity industry, in particular promoting renewable technology and how it connects to the grid and its interface with the market. I am committed to the concept of emission free energy. To reduce the carbon emissions of society, the production methods for power we are currently using have to change.

4. What do you find most challenging?
The most challenging issues would be dealing with new technologies that require significant engineering support to keep them working correctly. I translate complex electrical concepts into a language that can be understood more broadly and still achieve the right outcome.

5. Why do you think fewer women than men choose engineering as a profession?
I had to travel to Europe in the ‘80s to meet my first female engineer; up until that time I had no concept that a woman could or would be accepted into engineering. Teachers tended not to promote careers to women when I was at school, and I was steered away from physics as a subject. So I think you really need to find a desire to enjoy technical challenges and problem solving to believe that you can do engineering. Australia has a long way to go before women are doing engineering in equal numbers.

6. What do you think would inspire more women to choose engineering as a profession?
I think women need to be inspired to play a role in shaping the future of our society. Without female participation in engineering, the delivery of infrastructure, manufacturing and problem solving remains the domain of only half the world’s thinkers. I would like to see women step up to the challenges and make a difference.

7. Does being an engineer provide you with a diverse range of job opportunities? Where do you see the opportunities of the future being?
In general I would say engineering does provide the basis for a wide range of opportunities. As engineers with a specialisation are getting rarer, I think there will be good opportunities for specialists in renewable energy technologies in the future.

8. What do you hope to be the next step in your career?
Right now Pacific Hydro is providing me with engineering challenges that are quite diverse, and as a result I am enjoying managing a number of upgrade projects for our existing assets. It’s my goal to ensure that renewable energy generators have adequate engineering support to keep the technology working efficiently for the long term.

*The Engineering Profession: A Statistical Overview 2013



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