Vicky Ferguson (one of the many women that Isabella Tod fought for) is 22 years old and is in her final year studying Civil Engineering at Queen’s University Belfast. She is the u30s representative on the Girls' Brigade Europe Executive Team and is involved in the leadership of Fisherwick GB group in Northern Ireland.
In this article she shares the highs and lows of being one of the few young women on her degree course...
On my first day of lectures four years ago I was shocked by the number of women in the room, the ratio of women to men was just 1 to 10. In my Civil Engineering class of just over one hundred there were eleven women and I was one of them.
Civil Engineering is marketed as the engineering discipline most accessed by women, however that doesn’t stop people asking ‘Why on earth would you want to study that?’ or ‘Isn’t that a boy’s subject?’ or even condescendingly suggesting ‘That’s the easiest of engineering degrees’. My class had a better female ratio than other STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths) courses offered at the university I attended; however being a woman in a class of men still had its trials.
Inside the classroom men and women were equals, competing for the same prizes and working towards the same qualifications. However, there was an overarching stigma that this was a man’s world and I needed to prove myself. Much of this pressure did not come from my lecturers or my peers; it came from outside my classroom and was fuelled by society. The continual questions about how I was coping in a class of men, the puzzled expressions when I explained my chosen profession and the suggestion that women pursued this career path because it was less challenging than other STEM based degrees certainly contributed to me feeling inadequate.
By the end of my second year I was ready to drop out and do anything else. I felt like I had aimed too high, engineering was too difficult; I was too weak to survive in such a driven world. This was a time when I felt so overwhelmed by my imperfections I had no career aspirations, and this hopelessness most certainty affected my faith.
I had become so absorbed into a mindset of fear that I lost sight of the amazing freedom we are given in
Christ. During the summer break between second and final year God reminded me of some beautiful promises in His word. He restored my soul (Psalm 23:3) reminding me that ‘with God everything is possible’ (Matthew 26:19) and guided me to the verse that encouraged me to go back into the final year refreshed and inspired.
‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ - 2 Corinthians 12:19.
God’s power is made perfect in weakness, the very quality that made me feel totally inadequate and insufficient made God’s power perfect! I went on to find my passions in a particularly niche part of Civil Engineering and discovered that I do not fit the engineering stereotype which makes my skills even more valuable and interesting.
This is an industry where women are achieving, the number of female graduates is increasing and more women than ever before are aiming for top positions, but we still have a long way to go. As a female engineer I have a lot to offer but to offer my skills I need to learn to not be afraid to speak out, and market myself, I need to learn to ‘sit at the table’ and engage in discussion presenting developed and informed opinions. I still feel weak and inadequate at times, but now instead of becoming consumed I remind myself that God’s power is made perfect in weakness and I give the situation over to Him.
Engineering is a career that offers so many opportunities, it is a discipline that is growing and changing. It is time for us to change with it; changing our opinions and practices, encouraging and inspiring new students andchartered professionals alike and demanding that our achievements be celebrated. Having more female engineers does not make engineering ‘softer’ it makes it more diverse and diversity spawns creativity, creativity ignites our imaginations and who knows what can be achieved then.
How does what Vicky says in this article challenge you?
What aspects of this article do you relate to?
How might you encourage a young woman to follow her dreams in what might be considered a male career?