International Women’s Day: How Naval Architect Syafiqah Binti Shafiq Lee took action for equality

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International Women’s Day: How Naval Architect Syafiqah Binti Shafiq Lee took action for equality

To mark International Women’s Day, Naval Architect Syafiqah Binti Shafiq Lee talks about her motivations for joining the marine industry to challenge stereotypes, address inequalities and make the planet a better place.

When did you first become interested in a career in the maritime industry and what triggered that interest?

I have always loved the sea and I wanted to work in a marine related job. Originally, I was looking at becoming a marine biologist, but whilst looking into that, I discovered marine engineering.

One of my key motivations for wanting to work in the marine industry was the dominance of males in the industry. I also found that one of the higher education institutions in Malaysia did not have any female students for years.

I wanted to take on the challenge to break this stereotype and prove that engineering is for all. Hence, I decided to do a Diploma in Marine Engineering, then later pursue my Meng in Offshore Engineering.

Tell us about your early experiences as an engineer.

When I started in the industry as an intern at a multinational oil and gas company in Malaysia, I found I really enjoyed the work. I had the chance to get hands on experience working at the refinery and onboard ships during berthing and unberthing. I love learning the working of the ships and I was amazed by the scale of the operations.

What barriers have you had to overcome?

During my time in Malaysia, I found there were many barriers for a female to get a job and to gain experience in the marine industry. This is partly due to safety reasons as it was believed that women might not be safe on their own. Many jobs advertised said that they preferred male applicants.

Syafiqah when she was a cadet

Regards gender equality, do you think your experience was/has been any different to that of your male peers?

Yes, it was different in Malaysia. For example, during my internship, whenever I wanted to go onboard a tugboat to learn and gain experience, I had to be accompanied by a male who was interning at the same time as me. This didn’t apply to the male intern who was free to go by himself. This gave him greater opportunity to gain experience in the industry because he was a man.

What has been the biggest challenge?

Unfortunately, when I graduated with my Meng, the marine industry was going through a downturn. I went back to Malaysia and at that time many jobs advertised said that they preferred male applicants. Hence, I struggled to get a job in the marine industry, therefore I had a gap in my experience in the industry. However, I was resilient and persisted in applying for jobs within the industry and eventually I got the job I wanted and now have a good career as a Naval Architect.

How has your career progressed?

I have not always had a smooth journey during my career, but it is now progressing as I am working as a Naval Architect solving problems and becoming more competent every day. I am now really pleased with my progression.

What do you like, or dislike, about working in the UK?

I do like having more equal opportunities in the industry. I haven’t faced any stereotyping within the workplace. I dislike having sandwiches for lunch as I am used to having a cooked meal for lunch in Malaysia (ha ha!). And yes, the weather is unpredictable!

What is your future career goal?

I would like to continue progressing in my career as a Naval Architect and become a chartered engineer. I would also like to become a technically competent engineer.

What would you like to see change in the industry?

I would like to see more offshore renewables and a continued reduction of emissions in the industry.

What is your message to other young women considering a career in the marine industry?

Run away! Ha ha! You will find that every day is interesting as there are always new things to learn. You will never be bored as you will always be solving problems. It is never routine work! I am still fascinated every day by my work.

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