Celebrating women in engineering

UOW graduates share their stories.

Considering studying engineering? Here’s how a Bachelor of Engineering can open doors to a wide range of careers.

International Women in Engineering Day celebrates the achievements of women in the field and encourages more into the industry. Here, we share the stories of two University of Wollongong (UOW) graduates, each with different pathways into engineering, but both with successful careers in the traditionally male-dominated sector. 

Following in family footsteps   

Growing up in a Sri Lankan household, Indeewari 'Indee' Rathnayake felt she had two career options: medicine or engineering.   

"I was always a fan of science subjects. Since my dad is an engineer, I followed his footsteps," Indee says.   

 Indee began a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) at UOW in 2014. It wasn't until her second year of study she realised the gender disparity in her course. She recalls sitting in a Machine Design lecture and counting the attendees in her head. Only five out of the 92 students were women. During her internship, Indee was the only female in a workforce of 1,000 people.   

"The more I realised I was the odd one, the more I started to look at this as an opportunity rather than a barrier," she shares.   

Indee has worked as a mechanical engineer in underground coal mining for over five years. She started as a Graduate Engineer, working her way to Shift Maintenance Supervisor, and now, she is a Rubber-Tired Vehicle (RTV) Maintenance Coordinator. This position involves coordinating the RTV maintenance team that maintains a fleet of 95 diesel machines underground.   

Over her career, she has witnessed a shift in the industry, although she believes more can be done to retain women in engineering roles long-term.  

"There is a big effort to attract females but not enough to assist them in continuing their careers."  

However, Indee believes UOW gave her the necessary skills to succeed in engineering and overcome challenges.   

"UOW didn't just give me book knowledge; it nurtured my whole personality," she says.  

Her advice to young women considering a career in engineering is always to be open to new opportunities, even if you're the only girl in the room. 

"Put your hand up and try different things. Always be curious and never get scared because you are the only one. Sometimes being the only female in the room means you can set the standards."  

From fashion to engineering   

UOW graduate Rebecca Pink working as an engineer in remote Alice Springs.

For UOW graduate Rebecca Pink, her path to engineering began with a creative pursuit. She started her first degree in fashion design because she liked creative, hands-on work but quickly realised it wasn't the right fit.   

"I had always enjoyed math and science and still wanted something practical and hands-on, so I began exploring engineering as an option," Rebecca says.  

Rebecca’s grandfather was an engineer and always encouraged her to understand how the world worked by giving her mechanical Lego, National Geographic magazines and handmade toys.   

"I think it sparked an early interest in the field," she adds.   

She was initially apprehensive when she first began studying a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil/Environmental) at UOW.   

"I didn't know of any women engineers at the time and entering lectures with hundreds of males and only a few females was daunting," she shares.  

Her first job in construction had only three women out of 60 people, presenting both challenges and opportunities for growth.  

"I think there are more women in engineering now, particularly women in leadership roles, who act as role models for the younger generation. But I still think there could and should be more," she says. 

Now working as a Project Engineer for Ekistica in Alice Springs, focusing on remote community infrastructure projects, she feels that there is a good gender balance for those in early to mid-level career stages. However, things like paid paternal leave and flexible working arrangements will help foster women's career growth in the industry.  

Rebecca initially chose UOW for its welcoming environment and beautiful location, but now appreciates the University's emphasis on practical experience and environmental sustainability.   

"UOW did a great job focusing on getting hands-on experience. From interactive labs to the compulsory industry experience, it taught us to think beyond our roles and titles and develop an appreciation for the context we work and exist in and the complexities and layers of any given problem."   

She advises aspiring women engineers to embrace the flexibility and diverse opportunities an engineering career offers.  

"Engineering is a rewarding career and can open doors you didn't even know existed," she says.  

"Don't be afraid to shake it up and try different roles and organisations. All experience is good life experience, even if it isn't 100 percent aligned to a 'traditional' career path."