Women are entering electrotechnical industries

A controversial point system, gender targeted advertising for study programmes and other campaigns have led to an increasing number of women training to work in electrical engineering.

Kristen Fagerli, Sector Manager for renewable energy at the Norwegian Electrotechnical Committee
Kristen Fagerli, Sector Manager for renewable energy at the Norwegian Electrotechnical Committee (Photo: Kaia Means)

Kristin Fagerli, Sector Manager of Renewable Energy in the Norwegian Electrotechnical Committee talks about her job and experience.

In January 2020, adult life began. I had completed my master's degree and was ready to embark on my first “proper” job, where I was to perform new and exciting tasks and finally get a real salary.

Most things were new to me: new city, new apartment, new job and new colleagues. Some things were new to my employer also. I was the youngest Norwegian Electrical Engineering Committee (NEK) employee ever, hired straight out of university. In addition, I was the organization's first woman with domain responsibility since its inception in 1912.

This may sound like a story a young and lost woman in a male-dominated world. This certainly wasn’t the case. I was very well received. I was immediately given responsibility and freedom, and I was helped by my new colleagues and boss to succeed even when the pandemic hit the country just two months after I began. The last thing on my mind was my gender, and this is how I think it feels for most of the other women in the electronics industry also. We are used to being a minority without it significantly affecting our everyday lives, although improved gender balance would of course not have hurt.

And the gender balance is improving. There has long been a strong focus on girls in technology. A controversial point system, gender targeted advertising for study programmes and other campaigns have led to an increasing number of women training to work in the electrical engineering field. In Norway in 2020, 29% of engineering education applicants were women. For all of engineering master's degree programmes, the proportion of women was as high as 40%. It is still not fully even, but statistics point in the right direction. Though not all of these women want a job in electricity, there is little doubt that what was for a long time an almost absent gender in the sector now already constitutes a significant minority of the workforce.

In my job, I am responsible for a portfolio of standardization committees with experts in, among other things, power transformers, solar photovoltaic energy systems and fluids for electrotechnical applications. Common to all these otherwise very different domains is the fact that most of the experts in the committees are men. There is absolutely nothing wrong with all the knowledgeable and experienced male experts in my field, but the gender distribution just seemed so uneven that even I, as a woman in the electrical industry, noticed. I therefore decided to investigate whether this only applied to my portfolio or to the organization as a whole, and my estimate shows that only 5.5% of the committee members in the NEK network are women. This is a share that seems too low to be explained only by the uneven gender balance in the sector as a whole.

At the same time as I did my investigation, NEK sent out its membership survey. Some of the main findings were that most of the experts were on the committees, not only to influence the standards, but also to increase their competence, exchange experience with others and to build networks. We who work at NEK see this as one of the organization's most important functions. We aspire to be a home for the industry where representatives from the sector can meet on neutral ground, discuss issues and arrive at joint solutions. Sometimes this results in a well-worked standard or specification, while at other times it is a good professional discussion where all parties can learn.

This is why it's a shame that so many talented women with jobs in electrical engineering are missing out on our network. Not only do they miss the opportunity to influence national, European and international standards, they also miss out on the networking and professional communities that they otherwise probably would have benefited from. At NEK, we need their expertise. Not because the proportion of women in itself is necessarily so important - I personally detest the feeling of being counted on the basis of my gender, but because an organization like NEK should be benefitting from the expertise of the entire industry. Women, where are you?

This article appeared in the Norwegian Teknisk Ukeblad engineering magazine (www.tu.no) and has been translated.