Meet the women helping to change the future of fire safety

In celebration of International Women in Engineering Day, held on June 23rd, hear more about the experiences, challenges and roles our fantastic female engineers play at FireAngel.

FireAngel specialises in advanced fire, carbon monoxide and home safety technology and has achieved numerous safety industry firsts, deploying over 70 million products, and holding over 80 granted patents.

Behind the scenes, our engineers Usha Hedge, Kirty Nagar and Swathi Kamble are helping the company to revolutionise the fire safety space.

International Women in Engineering Day

Despite the growing demand for tech talent, it’s still a male-dominated area with around three in ten roles filled by women. Why do you think there are so few females in tech?

Usha Hedge, Firmware Engineer: The gender gap is not as simple as encouraging more women to enter the field or encouraging companies to recruit more women. It’s also an issue of retention. Research by the Global Talent Network, Adeva, found that over half (56%) of women in tech leave their careers at the midway point and the primary reason isn’t because they’re unhappy in their jobs.

The timing of this movement is likely connected with a correlation that at this time, a woman also tends to start a family and must balance her career with childcare and new responsibilities. In a field that’s highly competitive and demands 100 per cent of your energy, this can be particularly challenging.

How can we encourage more women into working in tech?

Usha Hedge, Firmware Engineer: I’m not sure we can create an interest for everyone, as not everyone is interested in technology or electronics. But we can change the mind of people who have started migrating their career, perhaps after studying engineering, or who have been working in a similar field for a few years but feel they might not be able to do the role for the long term.

I would recommend women discuss with their managers about how they’re feeling. Instead of giving up, have a chat with your manager and resolve a situation so it works for both of you. It’s about encouraging change at employer level rather than individual level, so those with the initial passion stay in the field.

What challenges have you felt being a woman in tech and how could this be improved?

Kirty Nagar, Electronics Design Engineer: As women are underrepresented in the field, it can feel lonely. I think all organisations should have a channel or a group for women working in STEM to interact with other female colleagues to share support and guidance. The experience is similar in education, with a distinct lack of female role models.

We need more organisations holding events at universities and schools and more female teachers, so that young women can learn about the opportunities available in STEM and hear from women that have progressed in their career.

What has been your experience of being a mother in tech?

Usha Hedge, Firmware Engineer: I was lucky to be working at FireAngel when I had my first child several years ago. They gave me the opportunity to work flexible hours between home and the laboratory, despite there being no company policy to do so at the time. More managers across the tech world need to support women and have the conversation about flexible working to help diversify the industry.

Flexibility and remote working in the recruitment process are two of the most effective diversity strategies noted by the 580 signatories of the UK Tech Talent Charter, a collective designed to share data, best practice, and progress on diversity in the industry. Making this common practice could keep more women in the field.

What do you enjoy most about working in STEM?

Usha Hedge, Firmware Engineer: After studying at university, I always had a feeling in the background of wanting to work in electronics and become an electronic engineer. I started applying to work in companies who specialise only in electronics.

At FireAngel, if you are developing a product, you are involved right from the start. There are so many other things you’re involved in, rather than just programming or coding. Here, I have had an opportunity to learn and be exposed to the hardware as well which is exciting.

Over the years I have been building my knowledge and profile, I have worked on a wide range of technologies at FireAngel, such as NFC, IoT, Zigbee and our algorithms. It’s good to be open to keep learning and trying things even if you have no initial knowledge of an area. I advise other women, if you can gain as much technological experience as possible in the first 10 – 15 years of your career and grasp more knowledge, this will help you achieve and build a strong career.

International Women in Engineering Day

What motivated you to work at FireAngel?

Kirty Nagar, Electronics Design Engineer: There are only so many companies with such a strong purpose. At FireAngel, it’s not just a matter of safety – but a matter of saving lives and there is nothing more precious.

In multiple-occupancy houses, terraced homes, and high-rise buildings, a major fire does not just put a single household in danger but potentially hundreds of lives. I’m proud to work on technology that can help prevent a 999 call because I know I’m helping to protect people, their families, and communities.

Swathi Kamble, Test Engineer: I like challenging myself and developing new skills and that’s what attracted me to the fire industry. The industry is currently recognising that the Internet of Things (IoT) promises to transform fire safety and having the opportunity to work on these types of projects from scratch to deployment is very exciting.

With complex technical challenges along the way, it’s a big learning curve but I find it rewarding to know that I can make a difference to every step of the process.

What advice would you give to women entering the field?

Usha Hedge, Firmware Engineer: If things are not going the way you expected, hang in there and have patience. Women are built with patience! Speak up and things will get resolved. There are different stages to go through before deciding you want to quit the field.

Kirty Nagar, Electronics Design Engineer: Be completely open and transparent. Discuss any issues with your colleagues so that they can guide you. If more girls pursue medical engineering or a similar field, it would be good for them. If we can provide our experience about working in STEM then maybe that might change more young girls’ minds. There is a predefined mindset that STEM is not a good job for women and only men can handle these kinds of jobs. When people think of STEM they think it’s not a 9-5 job. There might be rare moments, sometimes you work late if something goes wrong, but it’s not all the time. Once you rectify an issue, you can feel prouder than ever. The idea that STEM should only be pursued by men needs to change.

Why not find out more about FireAngel or International Women in Engineering Day?