Bringing women forward at Engineers Australia

When people think about engineers, they often think of men crunching numbers or wearing hi-vis. However, they find creative solutions to challenging problems, and Zhenya Pavlinova is working on getting and keeping more women in the sector.

Zhenya Pavlinova is a highly regarded engineer at multinational technical professional services firm GHD and plays a vital role within Engineers Australia. She is the chair of the National Committee for Women in Engineering (NCWiE) within Engineers Australia.

In terms of her path to becoming an engineer, Pavlinova admits that she was a massive fan of Lego as a child. The opportunity to put things together was possibly the start of her passion for engineering.

“I think my dad was a big kid and used to buy Lego kits. We would spend hours putting them together, and that was fun,” said Pavlinova. “I also remember tinkering with things and trying to pull things apart during school holidays.”

Her work as an engineer
Pavlinova is a firm advocate for engineering being a creative career path. There needs to be more understanding of what engineers do.

“I think that if you were to walk up to a person on the street and ask them what an engineer does, not many would know. Many would probably guess they spend most of their time crunching numbers in an office or wearing hi-vis and a helmet. There is so much more to a career in engineering,” said Pavlinova.

Regarding her career path, Pavlinova is currently the Senior Engineer on the Dams team at GHD. She tends to go to projects where she can learn or try something new.

Who are Engineers Australia?
Engineers Australia is the peak body for the engineering profession in Australia. The organisation was founded in 1919 as the Institution of Engineers Australia. With approximately 115,000 individual members, it is also the voice of engineers.

For more than 100 years, the work of Engineers Australia and its members has underpinned the progress of Australia. Its mission and vision for the future is to continue to advance the science and practice of engineering to benefit the community.

The National Committee for Women in Engineering (NCWIE) is an Engineers Australia community group. It aims to make engineering more inclusive by valuing, supporting, and celebrating the contributions of female engineers.

How does Engineers Australia have an impact on the water industry?
Engineers Australia is committed to working in a way that ensures the long-term survival of life on earth fairly and equitably. Its Sustainability Policy covers the principles, guidelines and plans it will work towards for the next few years.

In the eyes of Pavlinova, a lot of work is done in the background regarding policy and dealing with different levels of government.

“We also write several think pieces that promote what we are trying to achieve. On a day-to-day basis, we highlight the projects we are working on through our Continuing Professional Development (CPD) program. It is an excellent opportunity for our members to get together and have a robust discussion,” said Pavlinova.

How Engineers Australia supports women in engineering
As the Chair of NCWIE, Pavlinova works hard with other committee members to support and celebrate women in engineering. She believes that while there has been growth in the number of women in the field, it has been slow.

“The needle is pretty slow to shift,” said Pavlinova. “In the past ten years, it has shifted by about ten per cent. It’s coming from a low base. On the other hand, the culture of engineering is improving.”

While there have been bumps, companies are getting better at including women in their discussions. Pavlinova acknowledged the importance of female engineers in finding mentors and role models.

Encouraging students to take up STEM subjects is one area that Pavlinova and Engineers Australia is keen to pursue. Engineers Australia is pushing hard to encourage students to take up engineering careers, given current and future opportunities.

“There are a lot of great programs already out there that encourage children to take up engineering as a career path. It’s a hot market right now, and there’s enormous potential for them in the future,” said Pavlinova.

She believes in science communication to encourage children to study STEM subjects. Pavlinova takes part in a CSIRO project called STEM Professionals in Schools. The program pairs STEM professionals with teachers to bring STEM subjects to life in Australian classrooms.

“I would regularly catch up with the teachers during school holidays to see what I could teach and how I could fit into their curriculum,” she said. “It can be hard to fit into their curriculum and what the children have already learned. One topic I had was space, and my challenge was to work out what to teach the children and show them what engineers do.”

Of note is Young Engineers Australia’s role in connecting young engineers with mentors. Pavlinova spoke about the roles that each state branch plays in these connections.

“I’m based in Queensland, and I know that Women in Engineering is looking to run a mentoring event with a sustainability focus,” said Pavlinova. “The Queensland branch has been very active in setting up mentor-mentee relationships, which has been fantastic.”

Another group that Pavlinova pointed to is the College of Leadership and Management (CLM). It is one of nine colleges responsible for setting professional standards, providing CPD, hosting regular conferences, and publishing papers. CLM represents engineers who want to become managers or are managers.

Other organisations that support female engineers include Women in Construction, the National Association of Women in Construction (Australia), Women in STEMM Australia, Women in Technology, and Women in Manufacturing.

“There are many different groups out there running mentoring programs. Ideally, you want to be connected to someone within your field. It’s much easier to make the right connections through a mentor in the same field as yourself,” said Pavlinova.

This feature first appeared here.

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