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Why this YWP wants to see more female engineers in the water sector

As the only female engineer working in a small firm, the phrase ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ rang true for Karina Thiele.

While she learnt a lot and had great role models, she said having no women to look up to in the business was a challenge.

“It was a good experience being there, but the lack of female role models was definitely a disadvantage,” Thiele said. 

“It was difficult in that if I wanted to have children, how would that work? It would have had to be me paving the way, and that was quite daunting.”

Now an engineer in the water infrastructure team at SMEC, Thiele is passionate about promoting diversity in the water sector. She will be speaking about this alongside graduate engineer Amy Smith at the Australian Water Association’s Young Water Professionals Conference held in Brisbane in March.

“We want to promote female participation and retention in engineering,” Thiele said.

“Only 40% of female engineering graduates actually work in the field, compared to about 62% of men … But it’s been established that diversity leads to a more balanced, productive workplace – it makes good business sense.”

Karina Thiele speaking to a group of high school students Karina Thiele speaking to a group of high school students

The pair will focus on three things: encouraging women into engineering; retaining women in the field; and recruiting experienced female engineers back into the workforce.

Thiele said SMEC has made good progress in the first two areas, including working with school children to promote engineering and other STEM subjects, and setting up a mentoring program with female students from Griffith University.

“We also have a women in STEM career day each year where employees can bring in their school-aged kids – both boys and girls – to hear talks by women,” Thiele said.

In terms of retaining female staff, Thiele said SMEC has a good graduate development program to connect women within the business, and flexible work policies to help women return from maternity leave. 

“It’s great for women to see what others are achieving, whether in technical or management areas,” she said.

“Having role models and seeing how you can move in your career is really important.”

Thiele said her best advice to other women and young water professionals is to make connections.

“Having a mentor in the industry is very beneficial,” she said.

“And for people with more experience, offer yourself as a mentor and share your knowledge – become a role model for someone else.”

Hear more from Karina Thiele at the 2020 AWA/IWA Australia-New Zealand Young Water Professionals Conference, held in Brisbane from 12-13 March. To learn more and to register, click here.