Engineers are some of the world’s greatest problem solvers, coming up with solutions that change lives and improve the world. But women make up only 16% of engineering graduates and 13% of the Australian engineering workforce (Engineers Australia Women in Engineering Report - June 2022). Looking at these statistics, women’s underrepresentation could be limiting the potential for new ideas in this exciting and diverse field.

Committed to boosting female participation and success in engineering, UNSW and the Sir William Tyree Foundation (Tyree Foundation) are working together to address the issue. As part of a $2.6 million gift to UNSW, the Foundation launched the new Tyree Global Leadership Program to support high achieving women in engineering.
“The program provides an exciting opportunity to build on the Tyree Scholar Network, by offering curated leadership and mentoring opportunities. It ensures female engineering students emerge from UNSW as highly employable and leaders in their chosen fields,” says Robbie Fennell, Chair, Sir William Tyree Foundation.

The 15-month scholarship program gives participants the opportunity to build valuable leadership skills, expand their industry networks and gain global work experience.

As one of the first students to participate in the program, Shuruthy Dhushiyandan is keen to use this opportunity to make a positive difference in the world – and break down some barriers along the way.

Shuruthy Dhushiyandan is a UNSW undergraduate studying a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) / Science, and a participant of the Tyree Global Leadership Program.

Engineering an unexpected career path

From a young age, Dhushiyandan was inspired by the bright minds and problem-solving abilities of her engineer grandfathers. Her parents, who emigrated from Sri Lanka in the early 2000s, told her stories of how their fathers came up with ways to generate power and light during the country’s civil war. 

But pursuing a degree in engineering wasn’t something that Dhushiyandan really considered during high school. She excelled in history and English, but was also drawn to chemistry and maths even though they didn’t come as naturally to her.

“At the end of year 12 I did a Myers Briggs tests and funnily enough, it said the worst occupation for me would be a computer engineer or something in that field. It said I didn’t have the right character for it. It made me wonder why,” Dhushiyandan says.

While her interests sat more in the humanities sector, she questioned why this meant that her career couldn’t sit in a more technical field.

“I thought about those certain characteristics that made me apparently not suited. Could I bring that different perspective to a technical field? Studies have shown that diverse perspectives bring the most innovative solutions. I want to be challenged and help people, so I thought this was a way to do that.”

Her brother, who was already studying computer science assured Dhushiyandan that there was a place for her in a STEM degree.

How leadership skill can enhance technical mindsets

Now in the second year of her Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (computer engineering) / Science (mathematics) degree, Dhushiyandan has taken every opportunity to enhance her coursework with UNSW initiatives. This includes UNSW’s Women in Engineering Protégé Program, Innovator Pro and the Career Discovery Mentoring Program. These programs led her to applying for the Tyree Global Leadership Program.

“I think open mindedness is an important part of leadership, and sometimes in the more technical fields, there is that one vision where ‘my solution is the solution’. I see a good leader as someone who's able to communicate their own ideas, but is open minded enough to listen,” she says.

For Dhushiyandan, the program is about empowerment – giving technically minded students the confidence and skills to share their ideas and listen to others.

Janet Salem graduated from a Bachelor of Environmental and Master of Engineering Science at UNSW Sydney in 2005, and is now Co-founder of FootprintLab.

Creating a visible path for female engineering graduates

UNSW alumna and 2022 UNSW Women in Engineering Ada Lovelace Medal winner for Outstanding Engineer winner, Janet Salem believes bolstering engineers’ technical ability with communication and leadership skills is extremely important. Especially for women in the field.

“Giving women targeted leadership training so they can round out their technical capability will allow them to advance with seniority,” Salem says.

“The Tyree Global Leadership scholarship also encourages travel and getting experiences outside of your regular study. Not only to expand your networks, but to open yourself up to more perspectives that can make your work more effective.”

After graduating with a Bachelor of Environmental Engineering (Environmental Assessment) and Master of Engineering Science (Sustainable Resource Management, Project Management) in 2005, Janet was offered an opportunity to work at the United Nations. She spent the next 17 years building her career there, working in Paris and Bangkok with policy makers on substantiable global practices and priorities.

“Giving women targeted leadership training so they can round out their technical capability will allow them to advance with seniority.”

Janet Salem,
2022 UNSW Women in Engineering Ada Lovelace Medal winner for Outstanding Engineer and Co-founder of Footprint Lab

Now, she’s taken all her learnings to cofound FootprintLab, a company that provides current, credible and commercially ready carbon data to get sustainability into financial decision making. Salem’s career path not only shows that women definitely have a place in the engineering field, but also the vast opportunity in an engineering degree.

“Your degree can take you in many places and directions. I think I'm a case in point. I've never worked as an engineer, but it's always been very core to the way I work,” she says.

Salem says there is no shortage of great ideas in her industry, but it’s being able to communicate them that is key.

“I’ve seen a lot of pitches with very good technical solutions, but they often don’t succeed in attracting investment or clients because the business case hasn't been designed in a way that decision makers can opt in or support it.”

And that’s one of the reasons why Salem thinks this program has so much potential for both the young women participating and the future impact of their careers.

“While the technical merits of a solution are fundamental, you won't get further without things like trust and developing that professional credibility. You can only do that by working side by side with people.”

Tap into bright minds and fresh thinking

To meet employability needs, UNSW provides opportunities for students to connect with industry through the Work Integrated Learning (WIL) program. Students work directly with industry and community partners and gain credit towards their degree.

These project-based course opportunities can be arranged through the faculty as part of a student’s degree program. 

Project-based WIL is a unique opportunity for industry partners to upskill teams on a live project and get fresh perspectives and insights. It’s also a chance to access and mentor high achievers that may one day become the future leaders of the business.

“Giving women targeted leadership training so they can round out their technical capability will allow them to advance with seniority.”

Janet Salem,
2022 UNSW Women in Engineering Ada Lovelace Medal winner for Outstanding Engineer and Co-founder of FootprintLab

Acknowledging barriers and breaking them down

Nearly two decades after finishing her engineering degree, Salem believes there are still systemic barriers that are preventing high achieving women from being recognised in engineering. She sees great value in the Tyree Global Leadership Program and its potential for the future of engineering.

And that desire to be seen is just as important to Dhushiyandan, as she takes her place among the next generation of problem-solvers and changemakers.

“Women have to be genuinely passionate about engineering to break through systemic barriers. What we all want is to be appreciated for the passion and perspective we bring as women. And programs like Tyree will show everyone that women in engineering bring a fresh perspective,” Dhushiyandan says.

Find out more about the Tyree Global Leadership Program.

This article was brought to you by UNSW Employability