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How Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is the answer to Gender Diversity in Engineering

Written by Kate Heliotis, Structural Engineer at Inertia Engineering

Two weeks ago, countless industries around the world acknowledged International Women in Engineering Day (INWED); a day which started out in 2014 as a national campaign in the UK to celebrate the 95th birthday of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES). Since that time, the day has grown in interest and enthusiasm, becoming recognised with UNESCO patronage and broadly celebrated internationally from 2017.

There’s no surprise that a day like this gained international interest and record participation in such a short amount of time. With an underlying mission to increase awareness of engineering career pathways to youth, coupled with fostering a community of women across all levels of technical experience, the day serves to inspire unimagined career aspirations and instil the power of possibility for those already in the field. It also empowers engagement across disciplines and enrichens collegiality within organisations. What’s not to love?!

As one of the newest members of Inertia Engineering, I was thrilled to receive an invitation to join the Women of Inertia (WINners! I just came up with that…) over lunch to celebrate INWED 2021. This initiative, led by the senior leaders of the organisation, afforded all of us the opportunity to share and reflect on our journeys as women in a technical field. For me, it elevated my admiration and compassion for my new colleagues, some who have sacrificed enormously to work in their field. And others, who are seemingly so bold and confident that they inadvertently calmed my own self-doubts in whether I actually belong in this engineering world.

This is just one reason why this day is so important – because a lot of Women in Engineering (WE) feel the same way…

WE are capable. WE are creative. WE are excellent communicators. WE are thriving empaths that seek to improve client outcomes. WE love solving technical problems. And yet WE still… just want to feel like we belong in our fields.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs builds a pyramid of criteria for human fulfilment, of which one cannot be achieved without first ‘completing’ the foundational needs that support the pyramid layers above until you reach the apex. What is the apex? Self-actualisation – being the best WE can be. Growth. Potential. Contribution. Acceptance. Solution.

But first, WE must fulfil ‘belonging’, and then, WE must fulfil ‘self-esteem’.

So what does this mean for achieving diversity in engineering?

Days like International Women in Engineering Day are a catalyst for businesses to thrive on the benefits of women contributing to their business activities. Through fostering industry connection and recognition, women in technical roles are enabled to gain fulfilment in Maslow’s foundational needs; a sense of belonging diminishes imposter syndrome and reinforces purpose within their organisation; recognition fosters self-esteem, encourages motivation, and inspires other women to pursue excellence in their technical field; and finally, with self-actualisation, employees contribute the best version of themselves with complete vulnerability; creativity flows without fear of judgement.

Solutions exceed expectations. Employees succeed.

Capability exceeds expectations. Businesses succeed.

Diversity exceeds expectations. Industries succeed.