Picture the scene... On 23 June 1919, a committee of influential women sensed a new dawn. The First World War had ended, and significant steps had been taken towards women’s suffrage. The group, ranging from designers and munitions factory managers to wives of eminent engineers, rallied to found the Women’s Engineering Society (WES).
One hundred years later the engineering industry is more diverse than ever before, but there is still much to be done to boost female uptake into industry. As we celebrate the centenary of the Women’s Engineering Society and International Women in Engineering Day on June 23, the fact that only 11% of the UK’s engineers are female, the lowest percentage of female engineering professional in Europe, is an unsettling statistic.
This year’s theme #TransformTheFuture celebrates achievements of women in engineering and encourages young female talent to explore the exciting career opportunities available. From debates and competitions to networking breakfasts and open days, events are held across the UK all this week.
Why are There so Few Female Engineers?
During the 11 years’ I spent developing high performance systems within the automotive and motorsport industry, many of the superb engineers I had the pleasure to work alongside were female. They were rightfully recognised and many held high-flying roles. From the positive experiences I have had, it amazes me that as a nation we are still bottom of the league when it comes to inspiring the next generation of women to become engineers.
It made me wonder, of the excellent female engineers I have worked with (or that I am now placing into engineering roles), what is it that inspired and encouraged them into their careers? And what might they think about women in engineering?
Over the past few months I have been catching up with my network to see what they think, and it seems there are five common themes:
1. Be Inspired
Having a close family member or friend that is in the engineering profession seems to have a lasting effect. As one of my contacts comments:
“I decided to study engineering because my father is an engineer and I was very curious about his job and what he did. I didn't take inspiration from a female engineer, but I took it from my father.”
2. Challenge Yourself INDUSTRY 4.0 - WHERE DO I START?
Becoming an engineer can be a long and challenging process, with continued personal development essential to keep abreast of the latest technological advancements. I have found that my contacts are always well-driven and passionate about engineering and it continues to challenge them – this trait is evident from the very start:
“I saw engineering as a challenge, because the engineering university in the region where I was born, is one of the most difficult to enter. This was for me a challenge in itself!”
3. Love for Solving a Problem
Following from the previous point, as well as being highly motivated, the intrinsic challenge and reward from being able to solve a problem is another re-occurring theme, as one of my network explains:
“I love engineering: the opportunity to reason and find the best solution… is not a thing that all the university courses or careers teach us.”
4. Changing Perceptions
It seems that the stereotype of engineering being dirty and manual is still prevalent, and this can be an off-putting factor for both genders. What is interesting is that there is much evidence that Gen Y desire to have digital/technical (23%) and IT/computing (22%) jobs, yet just 6% of young people are even considering a career in manufacturing according to the 2018 Barclays report; 'A New Image for Manufacturing'. As one female engineer describes:
“I think that even today there are some barriers between the women and engineering, maybe because the people think that the engineering is ‘a job for men.’”
5. Creativity and Self-Belief
While the image of engineering may need addressing, perhaps young women are not told how traits such as creativity, teamwork and communication are just as critical:
“Sometimes it is easier to find men with passion for the engineering but this doesn't mean that we (women) are not as good as them, so I would like to say to the other engineer women: "Don't be scared and believe in yourselves, because sometimes the engineering needs a woman’s insight and creativity!"
For more information about National Women in Engineering Day 2018 visit inwed.org.uk.
Thanks to the ladies who contributed to this blog post.