The class was blown away and fascinated by the fact that, yes, it was possible to be both female and an engineer.
Ishani Parbhoo is a mechanical engineer for Bechtel's Oil, Gas and Chemicals business based in London. She has worked on projects all over the world, including Egypt, India, and Canada. Ishani is passionate about increasing the diversity of engineering teams and helping to inspire the next generation of engineers—particularly helping young women discover exciting careers in STEM. Ishani is a member of the Stewardship Advisory Council, the champion for Young Enterprise (the UK equivalent of Junior Achievement) Signature Program and an active volunteer in FIRST® LEGO® League and Engineers Without Borders UK. She’s also a STEM Net ambassador.
What inspired you to volunteer?
Growing up, I received very little career advice. I would have greatly benefited from having someone to talk to about careers in STEM subjects. I want to help make sure that today’s students have a better experience and can make informed choices about their futures.
What activities have you been involved in?
In the past year, I’ve been involved in four of Bechtel’s stewardship programs. I coached an all-girls team in the FIRST® LEGO® League—the first ever to reach the UK and Ireland national final. We’ve continued our support of the school by getting involved in an EPC session with them and two other local schools.This year, I helped launch Bechtel’s first summer internship competition with Engineers Without Borders and have mentored work-experience students. As the champion for Young Enterprise, I coordinate volunteering opportunities so colleagues can visit schools to promote entrepreneurship and help students succeed.
What did you find most surprising about your experience as a volunteer?
I’m surprised at how interested the students are in what I have to say, how they trust my opinion and genuinely want my advice. Our FLL team recently met with prospective volunteers to help encourage more Bechtel colleagues into stewardship activities. I was pleasantly surprised at how articulate and confident the students are, and I hope I played a small part in building their confidence.
Any interesting moments?
The class was blown away and fascinated by the fact that, yes, it was possible to be both female and an engineer. Once, a Young Enterprise teacher introduced me as an engineer and a student yelled, “But she’s a girl, and girls can’t be engineers. Only boys can!” He and the rest of the class were blown away and fascinated by the fact that, yes, it was possible to be both female and an engineer! That day, I really felt that I’d made a small step toward eliminating gender bias in our industry.
What was the most rewarding part?
When I go to schools I feel like I’ve made a difference and possibly expanded the pipeline of future engineers. It’s wonderful to hear students say “I want to be an engineer.” I’ve personally gained a lot of soft skills, including building my self-confidence. I think people are works in progress, so, regardless of career experience, everyone can get something out of being involved.
What did you find to be the most challenging aspect of your volunteer activity?
Some people may see stewardship as an extension of work, but once you get involved, you realize how fun and rewarding it is. You don’t have to be technical to get involved, and there are so many ways to contribute—everyone has something to offer!
What, for you, has been the most important lesson?
The most important lesson I’ve learned is how important initiatives like stewardship are. I find the gender divide in our industry quite alarming, so encouraging young girls in dialogue about STEM careers has become an important driver in my volunteering.
Do you think you inspire others to volunteer? In what way do you think you inspire others to volunteer?
I hope that people see how much I enjoy volunteering and find it rewarding. Time goes in but something amazing comes out. I sincerely believe that stewardship is positive for our business and our people and it will help to differentiate us in the future. Students are conscious of the impact businesses make in communities, and they want to work for companies whose morals and ethics align with their own. A client recently saw information about stewardship on the “Stewardship Stand” at the London office and was very keen to learn more. We held a separate meeting with him and he was very impressed with what we are doing and is looking for future opportunities to work together on Stewardship activities.
FIRST® is a global nonprofit that runs four robotics programs for young people between the ages of 5 to 18. The programs offer real-world engineering experience and inspire students to pursue education and career paths in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. FIRST® is one of Bechtel's signature programs.