International Women in Engineering Day: addressing the career break penalty
Today is International Women in Engineering Day. A day celebrating the achievements of women in engineering while raising their profile and encouraging young girls into STEM careers. Here at Concirrus, we are proud that our talented Engineering team is made up of many female Engineers who help build, innovate and improve our products.
The engineering skills shortage and underrepresentation of women within engineering fields is highlighted in recent stats that suggest only 12.37% of all Engineers in the UK are women. There are many social and cultural barriers that push women away from entering STEM careers such as education, lack of female role models, and the impact of gender stereotypes.
For women that do enter the engineering field one of the main barriers for those wishing to return to STEM after a career break is the perception of recruiters that a CV gap leads to a deterioration of skills. According to The Hidden Workforce Report 63% of Engineers returning to the sector believe the biggest barrier to restarting a career is bias in the recruitment process.
Many women and men choose to take career breaks and step down from their roles mid-career for an extended period of time due to personal reasons such as childcare or eldercare. Unfortunately, those who decide to restart their career often face the ‘career break penalty’ which labels them risky candidates and their previous experience can often be dismissed in favour of those who have not taken long career breaks.
In this Q&A Smitha Geetha, who joined the team in February 2021 as Software Development Engineer in Test, discusses her STEM journey, her experience with the ‘career break penalty’, and her advice for young girls looking to work within STEM.
Tell us about your career journey.
I started my career in 2003. I was working as a Software Engineer for the Telecommunications company Kodiak Networks (Motorola Solutions) in Bangalore, India. In 2009, my husband and I decided to move to the UK. My son was only one at that time. Having no other family in the UK to help with childcare, we decided that I would take a career break and stay at home to look after my son. This was an emotionally fulfilling time as I got to spend a lot of quality time with my family.
Your journey to restarting your career.
When my son was around five years old, I started looking for jobs. At this point, there was quite a large gap in my CV. When I first started applying for roles the job market was not a welcoming experience. I would send my CV to different recruiters and as soon as they saw the gap in my CV, I would be met with either negative responses or instant rejections. While I was taking my career break, I still had a lot of confidence in my abilities and skills. Though I was a stay-at-home mum, I was still finding time to do certifications, updating my skill set, and freelancing. I knew this would hold me in good stead for when I was ready to get back out there. I was also working with a number of ex-colleagues and friends from my network who were in the early stages of their start-ups offering my services in the ideation and design stages of different products. This gave me the opportunity to upskill, stay creative, and keep up with the market. However, when I was looking for jobs, the recruiters didn’t give me the opportunity to explain this. Faced with the challenge of recruiters looking unfavourably at career gaps, I decided to think outside the box and started freelancing. I became a UK citizen in 2016 so fortunately I was able to start my own limited company offering my services to different tech companies. E.g., working with large telecommunications providers such as Ooredoo helping them with their loyalty management projects as a QA Tester.
It was all about taking small steps getting myself out there again, talking to clients, and creating my own opportunities within the tech space. This experience was challenging however I refused to give up on my passion just because I faced rejection and setbacks.
Finding your passion again.
With my experience working as a Developer, I got to work only on certain modules within a product. Coming back to work I decided I wanted the opportunity to get a broader understanding of every part of a product or solution. As a QA Test Automation Engineer, I get the chance to utilise my passion for coding by creating test automation scripts that checks the quality of the entire product by validating all the acceptance criteria from the clients. I also get the chance to collaborate and work with an entire team including Developers, Product Owners, and Stakeholders to enhance the quality of the product.
I knew I wanted to work with a medium-sized company as opposed to a large cooperate as I have often found that there are fewer opportunities for growth and learning in bigger companies. Since joining Concirrus, I have felt very fulfilled and am learning a huge amount by getting exposed to new technologies and working alongside talented people. Working with a team that inspires you and motivates you is vital for success. I like that Concirrus pushes for further learning and upskilling no matter what level you are at. I hope to be involved in all stages of the product as the company grows.
What was the recruitment process like at Concirrus?
It was very transparent. I liked the fact that there wasn’t any questioning into why I had taken a career break. Instead, they looked at what I had achieved since I had been back in full-time employment since 2017. There were three stages to the interview process, one being a coding test where I received a full report of my results. This was extremely useful as I was able to see what I am good at and what areas I needed to improve upon. This also helped the company’s expectations align with my skill set. I also had a technical interview where two members of our team interviewed me where I received more useful feedback. I am always looking for ways in which I can improve my skill set and in each stage of the interview process, I became more and more confident. I was inspired by the team and their ideas and looked forward to challenging them with my own!
Your advice for people returning to work after a career break.
It can be a daunting process to restart your career after a break and it is easy to lose confidence in yourself if you face multiple rejections while applying to jobs. It is important to remember that everyone gets rejected at one time or another in life. My tips would be to believe in yourself and don’t lose hope. I would also encourage those who have had to take a step back from their professional identity to find the time to update their existing knowledge. There are so many options to study e.g. short courses or your own research. This can help you prepare for returning to the market and you won’t feel so out of your depth.
I really loved being with my family and having so much quality time with my son however, I never lost the sense that I was an Engineer. It is important to remember that not everyone follows the same career route.
The lack of representation of women in senior STEM roles remains critically low. Why do you think this is?
I think women have a lot to offer when it comes to leadership. Whether that is empathy, collaboration, or transferable skills. One key issue is sexism within the workplace which can play a role in how responsibilities and promotions are assigned. The lack of role models is another important barrier. If there are fewer women in leadership roles, then there are fewer female role models for other female colleagues to aspire to. Stats show that more women than men leave their jobs in mid-career. This will mean they have fewer opportunities to get to leadership level. There are lots of barriers, but I think we’re seeing improvements, and these barriers are being explored more now.
What are your hopes for your future within Engineering?
I would love to continue to work on my technical, managerial and business skills. Combining my technical skills with the business side I can get end-to-end exposure within all of the elements of the business. I want to utilise all of my skills including my ability to multitask and negotiate to develop my career further.
What would you say to girls in school who may be considering Engineering as a career choice and study option?
If you are passionate about engineering or STEM , get out there and do it! Don’t just read about maths and science. Go out there and challenge yourself by doing practical problem-solving. There is also a role to play for parents who need to help motivate their children and encourage them to learn and grow. I was born in India in 1980 where there were fewer opportunities and many more limitations to what girls could achieve. Now in 2021 everyone has more equal opportunities from childhood so I can’t wait to see the next generation of women in STEM and what they can achieve.
Learn more about IWIED here.
To learn more about our team and current open roles head over to our careers page here.