Nina Kalchunkova: Why Women are Engineered to Excel in Smart Industry

Posted 23 June 2022

Is the future of engineering female?

We sat down with Nina Kalchunkova, a design engineer and project manager at Akkodis, who believes women are engineered to excel in Smart Industry.

Since 2016, the number of women in engineering positions has increased by 25.7%. And as more and more companies see the advantages women bring to the engineering field, that number continues to grow.

These advantages, according to Nina, are because women’s everyday experiences as mothers/caregivers, as well as their excellence in soft skills, transfer seamlessly into engineering:

“I think being a mom is a great advantage in engineering in that the bond you build with your child [is something] you can also experience with a product that you are developing. Women are really capable of putting their heart into something and making it better and better, as probably many try to do with their kids.”

Nina Kalchunkova

Why mothers make great engineers

Celebrating her 10th year as an engineer for Modis (now Akkodis), Nina explains that it wasn’t until she had her son (now seven years old) that she learned the skills needed to prioritize and effectively manage her engineering projects: “When you are a mother… you learn to push. Push your limits further. You learn to prioritize. You learn to handle things with care, but also be patient with these things.” 

This ability to push further, while also being careful and mindful of others, transitions well into the engineering field. Being innovative in the projects you design while considering how someone will use the final product results in tech that’s not only inventive but benefits its users. She explains: “As a Design Engineer you always have to think about the steps afterward. I'm not only designing this thing to look nice but also to function in society. I have to think about the person that's going to work with [the product].”

Nina elaborates on the great care that women like herself put into engineering projects:

“You put so much effort into a project and think about it all the time and try to make it better, try to make it work, try to make it whole. It's like when you have a kid and try to make it a person that can take care of itself at some point, you know, like show him how to potty, how to brush their teeth and help him with learning to read and stuff like that. I think there are there are some certain parallels between both [engineering and motherhood].”

Utilizing soft skills in hard sciences

When you think of the skills needed in engineering, probably the first thing that comes to mind is math. While hard sciences are integral to tech, we can’t forget about the importance of soft skills. 

One such skill is empathy. In her professional role, Nina not only needs to think about the needs of her clients but also about the person who will be using the product. She explains: “Being empathetic, also helps you [in engineering]. It gives you a better understanding of what your client wants, of trying to understand them better. And I believe these are things that women have an advantage in.”

Another skill is time management. When you have tight deadlines and need to meet the demands of a client, her experiences as a woman have helped. “I can manage everything at home. Why shouldn't I be able to manage everything here?” said Nina. “I just have to prioritize and separate and do things… as you do it at home. It's something that helped me a lot [as an engineer] and I think that I did a lot of growing by becoming a mother.”

The path toward equity in engineering

When asked about her inspiration for getting into the engineering field Nina remarked that both of her parents are engineers:

“I enjoyed seeing what [my dad] does, he never constructed a car or something like that, but I admired him because he managed to repair everything he got his hands on… I enjoyed sitting next to him, peeking, wondering: ‘What's he doing now? Why is he doing this and that?’ And I was like oh, that's exactly what I want to do. I want to be able to think of [a product] in my head and [have it] solve a problem.”

However, it wasn’t until she chose a career in engineering that she learned more about her own mother’s journey in the field. “My mom, she didn't have it so easy as a woman you can imagine she has been an engineer for 35 years now,” said Nina. “I mean 35 years ago we were not so accepting of women in technical fields of expertise, and I think she had it really hard.”

Recalling a conversation with her mother, Nina shared:

“My mother said to me: ‘You are going to have it really hard because as a woman you have to be three times better than men so that you can be accepted as likewise capable.’ And that's not my opinion. That's her experience from her working life and what I admire about her. She never gave me a reason to think that somebody is allowed to question her expertise or her competence. She always talked on the same level with her colleagues and they respected her [for that]. She never for a second gave me the feeling that I should be doubted because I'm a woman.”

After learning of her mother’s difficulties and making her own way in the engineering field, Nina remarked: “I would be really happy if more women nowadays have the same point of view, that I shouldn't think about questioning myself because I'm a woman. I worked hard in university. I work hard in my job. I'm equal, and this equal thinking should be from the start.”

About women in smart industry – WISI

At Akkodis we want to champion a culture where talent matters, not labels. We have a team of 50,000 incredible people working at AKKA & Modis. Still not enough of them are women. This is why we have launched a new global initiative - Women in Smart Industry (WISI) Through highlighting the career journeys, insights, and experiences of our female colleagues WISI aims to empower and connect women.

Our ambition is to encourage more women to pursue careers in Smart Industry.

#EngineeringASmarterFutureTogether #WomenInSmartIndustry #WISI"

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