The Manufacturer helps celebrate National Women in Engineering Day 2016 by showcasing just a handful of the many already engaged in this dynamic and varied industry.
The list includes many familiar senior engineers, including Dame Ann Dowling, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering; Naomi Climer, president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET); and Dame Judith Hackitt, chair of EEF.
What is National Women in Engineering Day?
National Women in Engineering Day is an international awareness campaign which aims to raise the profile of women in engineering and focus attention on the diverse range of career opportunities available.
Set up by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) and launched on June 23, 2014, the idea behind the initiative is to encourage all parties (government; academia; businesses; professional institutions, and society at large) to organise their own events in support of the day.
Less familiar names, include former engineer and passionate industry advocate Steph McGovern, a presenter on BBC Breakfast; and Chi Onwurah MP, the only female engineer in the House of Commons.
What needs to be done?
Speaking to The Manufacturer earlier this year, Senior Employment and Skills Policy adviser at EEF, Verity O’Keefe noted: “Schools say they find it difficult to engage with employers, and employers say they find it difficult to engage with schools. Clearly something is going wrong.
“We’ve overcome concerns about CRB checks and regulations, so it is easier to engage with schools. I think the problem is, how does each party make those initial contacts, who do they talk to, and in what language do they speak? It’s the age old problem that industry is not good at talking to education and vice versa. We need to fix that.”
Eliza Rawlings, Festo UK general manager said: “Engineering needs to promote itself better to attract young talents – it is a competitive market for high-calibre graduates.
“In my mind, engineering needs to appeal to both men and women students equally in order to maximise access to the country’s talent pool. It can be done: look at medicine, where women applicants now represent over 50% of university intake.
“Engineering loses too many of its brightest people to other sectors – such as law and financial. We have to get across the message that in the vast majority of cases, engineering companies are good employers. Many have embraced flexible working and understand family commitments.”
Sue Rice, HR director – oil & gas division at Bilfinger commented: “While women are receiving more support to pursue engineering degrees, we must devote greater focus to encouraging girls in both primary and secondary school educations to engage with STEM-based subjects to break the current issue of stereotype and perception.
“Businesses need to take more responsibility in driving this engagement. Going into schools and colleges on a regular basis to champion our work is central to this, whether that’s talking to children and young people about exciting new projects or the vast impact engineers can have on society.
“Government can also play an important role on several fronts. It’s between the ages of seven and nine that children begin to develop their critical reasoning skills, and it’s at this point that we should be looking to inspire them through a curriculum that also leans on making and doing – a change that could be replicated across age groups.
“A common misconception is that you need a degree to be a success in the world of engineering. This is certainly not the case. Government would do well to review how schools and colleges are adjudicated for effectiveness, todays focus is still leaning heavily on how many of its students go on to university. This method means a significant number of would-be candidates may be discouraged or unaware of vocational training in technology and engineering, where they can learn the key skills and access the opportunities they can use to get on the career ladder.”
Professor of Enterprise and Engineering Education at the University of Sheffield, Elena Rodriguez-Falcon added: “I think a lot has been done to encourage young girls to take up sciences at an early age. But by the time they are encouraged it’s too late.
“Mum and dad are the first influences of what we perceive to be a boy’s job or a girl’s job; what it means to be a girl and what it means to be a boy. Mum and dad tend to not know what an engineer or scientist is. What we need to do is train mum and dad, so that they can train the little ones.”
Words of advice?
Tessa Colledge, STEM ambassador and engineering software programmer, Autodesk: “If you have an interest in engineering, I’d urge you to cherish the skills that you want to apply – whether this is maths or problem solving skills.
“Don’t give up on finding the career where you can use these skills – it’s out there somewhere. Take risks, put yourself out there and explore the unknown.”
Sarah Sordy, plant manager at Mars Petcare’s Birstall site: “I do remember a couple of years into my career looking around and realizing I was the only girl in the room. But things are changing.
“Having women in senior roles in manufacturing is less and less unusual. There really is no barrier today to a career in manufacturing and engineering as a woman. ”