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Helping female students discover our world of engineering

Virtual work shadowing day in partnership with Women’s Engineering Society London Cluster

At FCDO Services, we believe in inclusivity. We believe that everyone with the talent, ambition and potential should be able to thrive in whatever career they choose. What’s more, we’re committed to helping achieve that not just within our organisation, but across industry too.

That’s just one reason why we got involved in the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) virtual work shadowing initiative. Organised by the society’s London cluster, the event provides an opportunity for women aged 16+ to virtually visit a wide range of engineering employers. The event also forms a critical part of work to rebalance gender representation in the engineering industry.

The day works like this: female-identifying students from across the country are invited to spend a day with one of various organisations specialising in engineering. It means they get critical insight on the incredible range of engineering roles available, beyond the ones they might already know about.

At the same time, they also get to meet current engineers, getting advice on their career path – as well as hopefully discovering visible role models in the field. It means that the participants leave with a better idea of what’s open to them in the sector, and with empowering guidance from women who’ve taken a similar path.  

Ultimately though, helping female-identifying students into engineering doesn’t just benefit our participants, or our wider industry. It also benefits teams across our organisation – like UK NACE, for instance, who gave a talk on the day.  As the UK’s National Technical Authority for counter-eavesdropping, UK NACE protect against constantly evolving and often unexpected security threats. To make sure the team don’t miss a single one, they need a diverse team who think in different ways, covering all angles to better protect our government customers. Welcoming future leaders of all gender identities is a key part of that.

So that’s an overview of why we got involved, but exactly what happened on the day? Well, first of all, our two students kicked off their experience with a talk from one of our female senior engineers, who spoke about our organisation, our purpose, our inclusive culture – as well as her own journey into engineering and the different opportunities that have opened up to her within FCDO Services. She also spoke passionately about the need for more women in industries like engineering.

Next up came an exploration of paths into the sector: the students discovered routes to qualification through our apprenticeship scheme, as well as other ways to become an engineer with us. They even met current female engineering apprentices, who could tell them all about their experience.

Then, it was time to find out about the range of specialist engineering skills needed across our organisation. As mentioned, the students heard from UK NACE, on how engineers there protect us against counter-eavesdropping and cyber threat. Then they heard an example of how our engineers support embassies and government buildings in recovering from natural disasters. And of course, they had the chance to get hands-on too, with an exercise that saw them designing the security system of a virtual embassy.

“What empowered me most was that there were a lot of women who were very passionate about their careers. I felt included; it made me want to strive for a position like theirs.” – Participant.

It’s fair to say it was an eye-opening experience of the wider world of engineering, particularly since our specialist engineering roles are in areas that often aren’t talked about at school. For students planning a potential future in the sector, it was the opportunity to get to know options off the beaten path, all with real purpose in helping defend the nation’s interests. As our students put it:  

“What surprised me most is that I didn’t know engineering had so many branches, and I also didn’t realise that your organisation had helped in so many countries.” – Participant.

At the end of the day, we made sure the students had female role models in high places: their final meeting of the day was a Q&A with FCDO Services’ Chief Operating Officer, Claire Shepherd, who talked with them about her career path, her experiences, and her overview of our organisation.

It was a day full of collaboration and practical learning for the students – but they weren’t the only ones who took something valuable from the WES work shadowing day. It’s always incredibly rewarding for the colleagues who get involved too:

“We’re dedicated to nurturing and inspiring talent, so I feel privileged that through outreach work like this, we’re able to support both the Women’s Engineering Society and the female engineers of the future.” – Talent Outreach Lead

“It’s so easy for me to be enthusiastic about a day like this, because we know it makes a difference. It’s a chance to educate future talent about the direct impact of our work on national issues – trade agreements, NATO summits, corona vaccine development – so that these future generations can see what their career really could look like.” – UK NACE colleague

Of course, the WES work shadowing day is just one small part of the support we give to help break down barriers into engineering – and if you’re interested to find out more about our support for women in the sector, why not listen to our podcast or watch our video with one of our female former apprentices?

Alternatively, you might also like to find out more about how we create an inclusive, welcoming culture on our Diversity & Inclusion page – or even explore the Virtual Embassy as our participants did, to get a feel for our work and impact.

Whatever you choose, you’ll start to understand the incredible range of skills and backgrounds within our organisation – and the way we come together to protect people, information and government buildings worldwide. And of course, you might just see how you could fit in here too, to discover your job bigger.