International Women in Engineering Day is celebrated on 23 June every year around the world, to honour women in the field of engineering. It focuses on raising the profile of women who are changing the field of engineering one degree at a time.
Messages from: Tina Vejrum (Denmark), Ana Mandic (Croatia), Ann Schumacher (Switzerland), Mariagrazia Bruschi (US), Maria Pina Limongelli (Italy), Sotiria P. Stefanidou (Greece), Varsha Agarwal (India).
Happy Women in Engineering Day to all of you, messages and videos from our members
Tina Vejrum, IABSE President; Senior Technical Director, COWI Denmark
23 June marks the International Women in Engineering Day and I am very proud to celebrate this important day serving as the first female president of the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering (IABSE). With 3000 members from over 100 countries and active programs for young engineers, the association has a lot to offer. And we need more women to take an active role. In the videos you will meet some of the exceptional women who shape the engineering profession and serve as great role models. We need more like them! We need to inspire young girls to study natural science and engineering to take an active role in shaping tomorrow’s sustainable societies.
Engineers design solutions for people and we can only provide good solutions by having a diverse background ourselves allowing us to understand the challenges of different groups of people. But diversity cannot stand alone if there is not inclusion. I encourage the engineering profession to take an inclusive approach and actively support and provide opportunity for all people irrespective of their age, gender and background.
Also, in 2023, the aim of the International Women’s Day is to #EmbraceEquity to get the world talking about 'Why equal opportunities aren't enough’, since people start from different places. When we embrace equity, we embrace diversity, and we embrace inclusion, to help drive success for all.
Ana Mandic, SEI Editorial Board Chair, Commission 1 Vice-Chair, Croatian NG, Chair; Prof., University of Zagreb, Croatia
I have always loved math and drawing, even though I attended a language high school, my graduation thesis in physics was dedicated to energy conservation. Studying at the Faculty of Civil Engineering was a very logical choice, and later on, working on bridge projects and educating young future engineers is something I enjoy every day.
I look at my daughter who is a lot like me, she enjoys solving math puzzles and is not very enthusiastic when learning about history. On the other hand, the son, who is still very young, is extremely interested in tools and electronics, but he likes to steal a doll from his sister's room and laugh ...
Some of my female colleagues and students are much more thorough and organized than their peers, but there are no rules. We are different as people, and that is not only normal, it makes life more interesting. But it's important that we respect and value each other, and that we know how to recognize an individual's best qualities and develop them in a team effort that leads to a common goal.
Today, within the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering, I am the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Structural Engineering International, Vice Chair of Commission 1, which deals with structural performance and requirements in the design of new or assessment of existing structures. I also chair the Croatian national group and am active in few task groups that are close to my area of expertise. At the Zagreb University Faculty of Civil Engineering, I was the Vice Dean for International Cooperation for four years and for many years the Head of the Chair for Bridges.
I am proud of my positions, but even more of the path that led to them, where I gained many professional and scientific experiences, but above all, the most important life experience, namely the understanding of diversity and the ability to fruitfully collaborate with people who are different from myself.
Ann Schumacher, IABSE TC Core Member, IABSE Bulletin Board Member, IABSE Member since 1998, Swiss Federal Railways (SBB), Switzerland
I have been very lucky in many ways, including growing up with a Math Professor and a very supportive mother. “I think you would fit in well with the engineering students,” my father would say (who taught calculus to those engineering students), “it looks like they have a good balance of intelligence, practicality and fun.” My father’s sales pitch seems to have worked: all three of my parent’s children—two daughters and one son—went on to study engineering.
Fast forward a few decades and I am now in a similar position, with three children—two daughters and one son—moving through the school system towards their studies, or, as in the case of my oldest, already in her first year of university. She too is studying to be an engineer.
Why did my daughter, my sister and I choose engineering? The answer is multifaceted and impossible to contour precisely. An interest and aptitude in math and science has surely helped. So too has a healthy dose of confidence and self-awareness gained in large part from a solid support structure at home, at school, and in our extracurricular activities. This confidence in turn helped me to never question what was possible regarding my studies. For me, all areas of study were open as far as I saw it, and I had the luxury of choosing a direction that I knew would be interesting, challenging, flexible and, importantly, sought-after.
In hindsight, something that might have been interesting in my earlier years and helpful as life became more complex are realistic role models. More visible examples of women engineers, succeeding, but occasionally also struggling at their work, balancing their careers and their private lives, this is something I would have benefitted from during the past two decades. In the context of "women in engineering", it is these examples that I believe will also help normalise and eventually make it a rule, not an exception, that a girl / a teenager / a young woman will want to become an engineer. It is my hope that I will serve as one of these examples to my children as well as a few other women and men I encounter along the way.
Mariagrazia Bruschi, US National Group Chair, VP - Program Director at Parsons Corporation, United States
My name is Maria Grazia Bruschi and I am consulting bridge engineer with 37 years of professional experience. I am based in New York City and currently chair the USA National Group of IABSE.
As we celebrate International Women in Engineering Day on June 23, I want to remember the pioneers in our profession in the three countries I hail from: Elisa Bachofen, first civil engineering graduate from the Universidad de Buenos Aires in my native Argentina, who in 1919 started a 34-year career in the Department of Bridges and Roads; Emma Strada, who in 1908 graduated as the first woman engineer from the Politecnico di Torino in Italy, my parents’ country, and went on to design tunnels and railways; and Julia Morgan, who graduated in 1894 from the University of California at Berkeley as the first woman Civil Engineer in the USA, my adopted country, and who distinguished herself with her then-uncommon knowledge of seismic resistant concrete structures.
It’s easy to imagine some of the challenges they must have gone through at the time. Most of us women in engineering today enjoy the company of a few female colleagues and it’s easier to work side by side with engineers across the entire gender spectrum. While there is great progress from those early days in the 1900’s, let’s not forget that for many women all over the world, the challenges are still there. To them, I would like to say: reach out to other women engineers, find a role model and a mentor – IABSE is a great organization where you can look for one! - build a professional support network, and work together to improve working conditions for you and other women engineers.
Numerous studies have shown that women in engineering – as in many other fields - not only contribute their technical knowledge, and often technical brilliance, but also tend to excel in aspects that require soft skills, such as management, negotiation, coordination of multiple disciplines, and seeking consensus within project teams by being solution-oriented and conciliatory rather than confrontational.
Another real challenge in many societies is the lack of sufficient social services and support for women who choose to combine engineering and maternity. It’s true that engineering projects can be intense and have a demanding schedule that can result in a heavy workload, but it does not have to be that way. I am thrilled to see at least in the USA, an increased acceptance of the hybrid, flexible and part-time schedules for engineers who want to both have a career and raise a family. Technology is a great ally of women, facilitating previously-unheard-of work practices such as working from home, which allows us to remain efficient and effective contributing members of the engineering team, while juggling work and family duties. I encourage women engineers facing the challenge of work-life balance to find the schedule that works for them, have the conversation with their supervisors and their team, and make a commitment that is realistic and gives them the opportunity to make meaningful contributions. With the current shortage of engineers in many countries, the world can’t afford to lose any well-trained women engineers!
Maria Pina Limongelli, Italian National Group, Chair, Commission 1, eLearning Board Vice-Chair; Assoc. Prof. at Politecnico di Milano, Italy
Hello, I am Maria Pina Limongelli, a woman by birth and an engineer by choice. It was an easy choice based on my inclination and I shared this path with many males and very few female colleagues. However, most of us thought that gender did not have any importance. I am sure it was pretty different until 50-60 years ago. I think that the awareness that gender unbalance is not a condition but just a cultural artifact is one of the main achievements of the last 30-40 years.
The choice of being a structural engineer led me to an amazing path of learning, experiencing, and transferring knowledge to younger colleagues in my position of professor at Politecnico di Milano. Along this path I have seen a continuous increase in the number of women in engineering, and recently more and more in leadership positions. At PoliMI, for the first time in the history of the University, we have a Rectrice, the president of the Order of Engineers of Milan is a woman, the president of IABSE is currently a woman and I, chair of the Italian National Group of IABSE, am also a woman. It is important to know that. Sometimes we women just need to know that it is possible. Yes it is, and you can do it. It is happening right now.
I am convinced that women in leadership position can have an important impact on fostering equality in diversity. This is one of the reasons why, since April 2022 I accepted the Lisa Meitner Guest Professorhip at Lund University in Sweden. In this position I am expected to to act as role model for younger researchers. We are certainly diverse, as society is diverse. Our diversity as engineers is a richness that will allow to design and to build a world - able to address diverse needs and ambitions.
Society needs diversity. Let’s work together to achieve that for our daughters and sons.
Sotiria P. Stefanidou, IABSE Early Career Prize winner 2022, Dr., COO REDI Engineering Solutions PC, General Director SURE SA, Greece
On June 23rd we celebrate the International Women in Engineering Day, highlighting the achievements of women and their contribution to various fields of engineering, which is -until today- a male-dominated profession. As engineers, we serve societies by providing knowledge, skills, and creativity to design, build, and improve systems and structures, introducing new technologies toward a resilient and sustainable building environment. It is obvious that women should have a vital role in this evolutionary process, bringing unique perspectives and problem-solving skills, also promoting diversity in the engineering world. By embracing diversity, we ensure equal representation and, therefore, engineering solutions that cater to the needs of all individuals and communities, regardless of gender, race, or nationality. Unfortunately, there is still much work to be done. Women continue to be underrepresented in engineering, facing obstacles such as stereotypes, limited opportunities, lack of mentorship and societal support. To change all these, we should strive for equality and inclusivity at every level. We need to encourage and support young girls to pursue their interests in all engineering fields from an early age, providing mentorship programs, scholarships, and initiatives that foster the growth and development of aspiring women engineers. So let us all embrace equality, creating an inclusive and supportive environment for women, eventually unlocking the unconditional potential and talent within our societies.
Varsha Agarwal, IABSE New Delhi Congress SC member, Associate Technical Director COWI, India
I am Varsha. I am a bridge design engineer working as associate Technical Director at COWI India. I was born and raised in a small town in India, where studying science was encouraged for girls. However, engineering was still considered a career predominantly for boys. Thankfully, my parents believed in me and supported my decision to pursue engineering. When I entered college, I realized that I was one of only four girls in a batch of over 300 students. It was an eye-opening experience.
Throughout my career spanning more than 25 years, I have had the privilege of working on a variety of projects, from long span bridges across mighty rivers to small bridges nestled deep in mountains. Each project presented its own unique challenges. One thing I have learned is that engineering is a collaborative effort. It requires teamwork and the ability to think outside the box. That's where women engineers truly shine.
I have witnessed the power of diversity in my own team. Women engineers bring a natural empathy and a strong ability to connect with their team members. Their diverse backgrounds and experiences allow them to offer fresh perspectives and innovative solutions to complex problems. We need more of this creativity and inclusivity in the engineering field.
Today, as we celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, let us continue to break down barriers. Let us pursue our dreams with determination and confidence. For engineering is not just a profession—it's a path to joy, fulfilment, and making a difference in the world.
Happy International Women in Engineering Day to all!