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Encouraging women in STEM fields: an Emerson employee's journey

Aarti Dange, customer experience leader, Middle East and Africa and MEA DE&I leader, at Emerson. (Image source: Emerson)

On the occasion of International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June, Aarti Dange, customer experience director, Middle East and Africa and MEA DE&I leader, Emerson, shared her experiences and insights on providing a supportive environment for women in engineering. 

Can you give us some background about your role, and how you came to get where you are today?

My role at Emerson is multifaceted, allowing me to leverage my engineering background and my passion for innovation. As the customer experience director and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) leader for Middle East and Africa, I support marketing and business development functions as well as product development for new digital solutions. I strongly believe in the power of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, and therefore I constantly strive to create a working environment where everybody feels valued and empowered.

My journey to this point began with my keen interest in the energy sector. It is a constantly evolving field, driven by innovation, creative ideas, and various challenges such as sourcing new energy resources from increasingly intricate places like deep underground or under the ocean. This calls for the employment of cutting-edge technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. It is fascinating and inspiring to see how these advanced technologies constantly improve and drive positive change, whether in finding new energy sources or making processes safer. Nevertheless, there exists several challenges in the industry, such as the cyclic nature of the industry and its impact on the environment. These challenges, however, open doors to innumerable opportunities for innovation and sustainable energy solutions.

What are the main challenges you have experienced as a woman engineer so far in your career, and how have you overcome them?

As we know, the engineering industry has traditionally been a male-dominated field, which can create a culture that may not be inclusive or supportive of women. Additionally, specific roles in the industry, particularly those involving work on rigs or in remote locations, may set forth physical demands that can be challenging for women. In order to overcome these challenges, I focused on honing and expanding my technical skills and expertise as well as staying current on the most recent technologies. This commitment earned me acceptance and respect from my male counterparts at the company.

I also strived to demonstrate diligence and confidence in my work in order to challenge existing biases, pursued opportunities for professional development and endeavoured to build a robust network within the industry. Industry events, conferences, and workshops not only broadened my skillset and knowledge but also enabled me to connect with other fellow women engineers..

Overall, my journey as a woman engineer, despite all the hurdles in the historically male-dominated industry, has been challenging and rewarding at the same time. Through perseverance, seeking mentorship, advocating for myself, and committing to positive change, I have been able to achieve success.

What do you think have been your main achievements, and what are your aspirations and ambitions for the future?

One of the major achievements that stands out as a pivotal milestone in my career is being selected for the SPE (Society of Petroleum Engineers) Distinguished Lecture Program. Being selected for this program recognises my expertise and contributions to the field and empowers me to make a meaningful impact beyond my immediate sphere of influence, enabling me to serve as a technology ambassador for the oil and gas industry globally. Representing the industry and having the opportunity to inspire and educate individuals about the developments and challenges in the oil and gas industry is a humbling yet thrilling experience. It reaffirms my dedication to remain at the forefront of technological advancements and exchange insightful knowledge with the global community. I consider this achievement as a tremendous honour and responsibility that I deeply cherish.

What do you think companies could do to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for women in engineering, and help them advance in the industry?

Companies can offer training for their employees, particularly those engaged in hiring and promotion procedures, to identify and address unconscious bias. This can guarantee that women are evaluated fairly according to their qualifications and skillset. Furthermore, companies can host diversity events, honour accomplishments of female engineers, and foster an inclusive workplace where all employees are treated equally and fairly, and feel valued.

Mentorship and sponsorship programmes can be established, which can help women engineers to overcome challenges in the field by allowing them to interact with seasoned professionals and mentors who can offer guidance, support, and opportunities for professional growth. Providing women engineers with specialised training programmes, conferences, workshops, and other professional development opportunities can help them grow their skills and networks, in addition to advancing their career in this industry.

One initiative that has received significant recognition is the ‘Women in Engineering (WIE)’ program by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) which offers networking events, professional development workshops, mentorship opportunities, and advocacy for gender diversity in the field of engineering.

How do you think young girls and women can be encouraged to pursue careers in engineering?

Gender stereotypes in around science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers must be dispelled, and this starts with early childhood education and interventions for boys and girls. Encouraging young girls and women to pursue engineering career needs an interdisciplinary strategy that includes diversity initiatives, supportive environments, and exposure.

One successful method is to introduce girls to this field at a young age through various means, such as STEM education programs through schools and organisations. For example, the ‘Girls Who Code’ organisation seeks to bridge the gender gap in technology by providing young girls from diverse backgrounds with coding education. Academic institutions can provide STEM education focusing on female students. These programs can include engineering-related workshops, mentorship opportunities, and hands-on activities. Showcasing success stories of accomplished female engineers will encourage young girls to consider this field as a feasible career option. Likewise, parents have a great influence in shaping children’s career aspirations and professional goals. They can support the interest of their daughters in STEM subjects and offer resources for them to learn more about engineering.

Creating supportive environments through mentorship, networking opportunities, and offering a safe space to address bias and stereotypes is crucial for retaining women in the field of engineering. All these strategies contribute to empowering and encouraging women to pursue careers in engineering as well as help them succeed in the industry.

What future do you see for women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and the opportunities on offer in these sectors?

I see a promising future for women in STEM. Over the past few decades, women have made great strides in the STEM professions, and this trend is only anticipated to increase. STEM sectors offer diverse opportunities to individuals with varying backgrounds and interests. These industries have a growing need for qualified workers and provide excellent career prospects, competitive pay, and opportunities for advancement.