Technical Article

Engineering: No Place for a Woman?

Globally, it is estimated that only 30 percent of researchers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields are women. That number decreases with an increase in seniority and prestige. The Nobel Prize’s shortlist of women is one example. Of all Nobel laureates in Physics between 1901 and 2021, only 4 have been women, and none from Asia.

The skills and gender gap are not to be taken lightly. The 2020 Global Engineering Capability Review recognized that the skills gap in engineering will also impact areas of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in terms of clean energy, sustainable cities and climate action. Research commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Lloyd’s Register Foundation found that while engineering provided an important lever for countries to fulfill UN goals, it could not do so without a sufficient pool of talent with the necessary capabilities. Finding the solution to the skills shortage will require effort to build, involve and engage with more women. Four female leaders within Hexagon share how far they have come and how much further they have to go to break the bias and build back wiser for a better future.


Kanokrat Densirisopa. Image used courtesy of Bodo’s Power Systems


Kanokrat Densirisopa is Sales Manager of MSC Software Corporation, part of Hexagon for Thailand. She is in charge of engineering solutions products with close to a decade of experience having graduated with a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering from Kasetsart University, Thailand. Her specialties are in the electric vehicles and autonomous technologies.


What drew you to this field in engineering?

I have always been interested in technology and future solutions. Engineering, for me, offers solutions and tools for productivity; enabling people and companies to work better and faster while simultaneously creating new opportunities and futures. Technology makes perfect business sense -- if you do not innovate, invent and upskill with technology, someone else will. And I want to be in the forefront.


So much has been written about women in tech/engineering, have you seen a difference since the time you started?

Compared to 10 years ago, women now have more confidence in technology and innovation than they did when I first started as a sales engineer for a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software product. There are far more opportunities available to us, but it’s been a long journey to get here. The value of women in the workplace is now finally beginning to be recognized and far beyond just being a good business strategy, empowering women is the key to success.


How do we encourage young women to get into this field?

Young women are interested in technology and have the potential to bring huge change and impact to industries, but these interests need to be cultivated, encouraged, and nurtured from a young age for women to be confident in these areas, and take a position in industries.


What do we need to do to break the bias? How far do we have to go to change the perception that engineering is a man’s world?

There is growing awareness and decisions on gender inclusivity and on improving gender parity at the workplace across industries. I believe there will be many more women working in the engineering field. I think to help push further, we should stop limiting women from any kind of work, not only in engineering but in all fields.


How does Hexagon support women in engineering, driving impact?

I’m so proud to work for a company that does not let gender be a barrier of work. Hexagon is a large company, but it’s close-knit; I have never felt discriminated against on the basis of gender here.


Hanxue Zhao. Image used courtesy of Bodo’s Power Systems


Hanxue Zhao is Vice President of Global Electronics Industry Lead in Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence. She spent over 20 years living and working internationally. She is highly motivated, with team management, business development, and technology sales experience in multinational corporations in the high technology and instruments sectors. She holds a doctorate PhD in Microelectronics from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. She now leads teams in emerging technologies surrounding 4IR.


What drew you to this career path in engineering?

It’s the nice combination of engineering and creative nature of the role, with numerous opportunities to inspire others, as well as the unimaginable diversity and possibility.


So much has been written about women in tech/engineering, have you seen a difference since the time you started?

Whether male or female, we need to work hard to prove ourselves and gain respect, the difference lies in the perspectives and mindset that women bring to the table.


How do we encourage young women to get into this field?

Engineering is a field where intelligence and hard work are recognized and rewarded. Historically, this has been male-dominated - which can be intimidating, leaving women to feel unwelcome in the industry.


How does Hexagon uplift women?

Hexagon has numerous programs developing women in leadership where we are encouraged to perform and grow. It provides an inclusive and robust environment for women to thrive. In 2021 Hexagon conducted a women mentoring program to help empower and mentor women within the Manufacturing Intelligence division by developing meaningful relationships, expanding knowledge about Hexagon and the industry we operate in and providing experiences that will advance skills needed to thrive professionally.

Hexagon has also made a commitment that by 2030, 30% of its leadership will comprise of women. This is great news as we embrace diversity in the workplace!


What do we need to do to break the bias? How far do we have to go to change the perception that engineering is a man’s world?

To break the bias, and to remove the hidden barriers, we must encourage women to set aside pre-conceived notions that “science is not for us” and be encouraged to pursue our interest and passions in the field. That has to start from the day girls are in school, and continue to be cultivated and nurtured until they enter higher education.

Women also overwhelmingly drop out of these fields due to family commitment. To resolve this, women need to be given every support, from creches to childcare and maternity options at the workplace, enabling them to better balance life priorities in order. This will enable her to better contribute to the growth of the organization.


Khoo Siew Fang. Image used courtesy of Bodo’s Power Systems


Khoo Siew Fang who is currently Country Manager of Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence Malaysia, with over 18 years of experience in engineering, sales and leadership - instrumental in the continued growth and development of its business here.

Having completed a Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Science and a Diploma in Civil Engineering, she started her career as a scientific instruments solution provider for research and education, environmental works, and hydrogeology. She then moved on as a technical specialist and now lends her skills and expertise in the area of smart manufacturing and metrology.


What drew you to this industry?

Metrology, the scientific study of measurement, is a niche market that is very interesting for me to learn and explore. I like the differentiation and high-level expertise that this field offers.


So much has been written about women in tech and engineering. Have you seen a difference since the time you started?

Since the beginning of my career, I have seen female participation growing steadily but still at a slow pace. It could take many more years for women to gain equal representation in tech and engineering. There are many levers we can apply to accelerate the pace of change - but more importantly, it needs to be done consistently and collectively. By this, I mean that it takes leaders, teachers, parents and the whole of community to recognize firstly, the importance a scientific mind, and to continually foster that for girls. The career path for women in traditionally male-dominated industries can sometimes be fast-tracked as more companies are cognisant of the value of women leaders - in management and Board levels.


How do we encourage young women to get into this field? How can we #buildbackbetter?

UNESCO’s report “Cracking the code: Girls‘ and women‘s education in STEM”, found that only 35 percent of STEM students in higher education globally are women. On average worldwide, women accounted for less than a third (29.3%) of those employed in scientific research and development (R&D). The numbers do not lie: gender parity in roles related to science, technology, engineering and innovation continues to escape a certain reality in spite of women making up half of the world’s population.

So I say: we must be a bridge for young women. More of us need to speak with young women who are in need of role models. Mentorship programs to provide young women with the ability to receive hands-on, skills-based advice as well as networking and practical tech career advice. It is important for us in this field to uplift each other and continue to create opportunities for each other.


Hexagon’s diversity and inclusion: How does Hexagon uplift women?

At a recent Hexagon regional meeting, I shared Malaysia’s wins in Q-DAS (software for Statistical Process Control and data management) and electronics. There have been many occasions where the agenda has been designed to be inclusive. Hexagon provides a level playing field, and recognizes how we can come together to contribute to the greater success of our customers, the organization and more importantly, people and the planet.


What do we need to do to break the bias? How far do we have to go to change the perception that engineering is a man’s world?

Women engineers have already shown what we can do in the profession, and in time this will lead towards equal representation and equality. Continued motivation, passion, and opportunistic attitudes are needed to help women get ahead in their engineering careers.


Leanne Kam. Image used courtesy of Bodo’s Power Systems


Leanne Kam is Senior Sales & Application Manager. She started her journey in precision engineering from the school bench, some 14 years ago. This stoked her passion about Industrial metrology, leading to a career as an application engineer while pursuing Mechanical Engineering in the National University of Singapore. She now lends her skills and expertise in the area of smart manufacturing and metrology.


What drew you to a career in metrology?

It was interest and curiosity that drew me into engineering. Job satisfaction kept me in this field. I grew to love and appreciate precision measurement technology through my work. What I enjoyed most was helping customers solve their quality issues using the right measurement strategy and technology.


So much has been written about women in tech and engineering, have you seen a difference since the time you started?

The engineering industry was still predominantly male when I first started in the early 2010 s. More women are now in engineering and this is a good sign! It is good to see we can now pursue our dreams, breaking previous stereotypes.


How do we encourage young women to get into this field? How can we build back better?

Fundamentally, encouragement from families goes a long way, especially during the formative years. If a family member goes “women don’t need to do engineering, just find a simple desk job will do”, it creates a negative image of engineering that might resonate in their minds throughout their growing years. Environment shapes us, and to get more young women into this field, I think uplifting the entire engineering image in Singapore and Asia is important. Showing young women that engineering is an extremely interesting and rewarding career is important. I think that starts from engaging girls early on, hence partnerships with educational institutions are essential to the entire effort to uplift the branding of engineering as it is a key occupation that contributes to sustainable development.

Globally, there is a skills shortage for engineers. Also, the type of engineering graduates does not always match the type of engineers required by specific countries or industries, according to studies by the Royal Academy of Engineering. This is compounded by the fact that many engineering graduates opt to work in disciplines other than engineering, shrinking the pool of available engineers.

Finding the solution to the skills shortage will not be easy nor quick and will require a coordinated effort by all stakeholders.

The World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development in March annually, for example, offers an occasion for governments, industries, non-governmental organizations and the public at large to connect and address the need for engineering capacity and the quality of engineers to solve the world’s most pressing problems. Reports continue to show that there continues to be a shortage of engineers in terms of employability and retention of talents within the engineering sector and companies.

So really, there’s no better time than now to step into this career if sustainable impact is what we are after!


What has it been like working at Hexagon?

Hexagon has given equal opportunities to both men and women. Despite the engineering industry being predominantly male, Hexagon has identified my talents and passion for the precision engineering industry and given me the opportunity to learn and grow with the family.


What do we need to do to break the bias? How far do we have to go to change the perception that engineering is a man’s world?

When more women in engineering start stepping up and showing the world what they are capable of, this perception will start to change, and the respect for women in the field will grow.


Feature image used courtesy of Pexels

This article originally appeared in Bodo’s Power Systems magazine.