International Women in Engineering Day 2023: the pioneers of progress

Posted on 23 Jun 2023 by Lanna Deamer

International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) first began in the UK in 2014 as National Women in Engineering Day, a campaign launched by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES).

Since then, the day has grown enormously, generating interest and enthusiasm as well as receiving UNESCO patronage in 2016 and going truly global as INWED the following year.

INWED was born to enable the celebration of women in engineering and on its 10th anniversary focuses on the theme #MakeSafetySeen, profiling the best, brightest and bravest women in engineering; those women who #MakeSafetySeen and are helping to build towards a brighter future. 

Dame Dawn Childs, President, of The Women’s Engineering Society said: “The Women’s Engineering Society wanted to support women engineers, and help them on their career journey, and also support the industry by helping them to understand the benefits of diversity. 

“Creating a showcase of women engineers and allowing the various companies to celebrate them and have a platform where they can share their stories, talk about other women engineers, and create role models was really important.” 

International Women in Engineering Day holds immense significance as it provides a vital platform for everyone to foster a deeper understanding of the invaluable contributions and advantages of having women in engineering. It not only showcases the wide array of roles available but also highlights inspiring role models.

Moreover, it generates an empowering energy that propels us to tackle the diversity challenge, address the skills pipeline and utilise innovative thinking to solve real-world problems. This celebration reaffirms the fact that engineers are ideally positioned to find solutions and make a positive impact. 

How are things progressing?

Although engineering remains a male-dominated industry, since 2010 we have seen both a proportional and absolute increase in the number of women working in engineering roles. 

As reported in March 2022 by EngineeringUK, women make up 16.5% of all engineers, compared to 10.5% reported in 2010. This represents a six percent point increase in the proportion of women in the engineering workforce. The increase in the number of women in engineering roles continued to rise even when the total number of people working in engineering fell in 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, according to Joanna Whiteman, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at The Royal Academy of Engineering, the current state of gender representation in engineering is disheartening. She said: “As we commemorate the 10th year of INWED, it’s dismaying to see that only 16.5% of engineers are women – a mere two percent increase over the past decade. This slow rate of change is cause for concern.

“In the manufacturing sector, where approximately 2.6 million people are employed in the UK, women constitute 27% of the workforce. However, when it comes to professional engineering roles, that number drops to around 12%. This highlights a significant disparity, suggesting that women in manufacturing are predominantly occupying non-engineering positions. 

“Nevertheless, there is an optimistic outlook as efforts are being made to address this issue. It is important for us to acknowledge our impatience and the desire for faster progress. The aim is to accelerate the rate of change in the years ahead. Being a minority in any industry is a challenging path to navigate, and it can be particularly difficult for individuals who don’t seem to fit the conventional mould. Therefore, it is crucial to celebrate the achievements of women who persist in male-dominated spaces across various industries.” 

Joanna continued: “The Royal Academy of Engineering wholeheartedly supports International Women in Engineering Day as a means of recognising the hard work and resilience of these women. Moreover, the significance of role models cannot be understated – they have the power to inspire the next generation and encourage them to consider engineering as a viable career option. INWED shines a spotlight on the incredible contributions of women in engineering and plays a vital role in driving positive change.” 

The new Attitudes to Industry report into public opinions on the topic of Women in Engineering, revealed that almost two-thirds of the general public (65%) agreed that there should be more women engineers. Nearly seven in ten women and just over five in ten men hold this opinion. One in ten (12%) of people aged between 25-34 feel that engineering is NOT a suitable workplace for women.

As we reflect on our achievements, it is important to simultaneously consider the future and the work that remains. Dawn, in her remarks, emphasised the need to shift the narrative surrounding female engineers. The prevailing notion of the difficulties women face in this field should become a thing of the past. Instead, we should focus on highlighting the positives and the life-changing experiences that come with being an engineer.

She said: “Despite the challenges encountered along the way, it is worthwhile to overcome them and build fulfilling careers. By nurturing and promoting positive role models, we can create a future where the barriers we faced no longer exist. It is crucial to share inspiring stories and showcase these positive role models. By shifting the conversation away from the negatives of being a woman in engineering, we can redirect our focus towards the immense potential we possess to make the world a better place through our problem-solving abilities.” 


It is worth noting that the theme for INWED changes annually. This deliberate decision stems from the vast breadth of engineering as a field, encompassing numerous diverse aspects and a wide range of job roles available to engineers. By altering the focus each year, the spotlight is cast on different individuals and their contributions. This dynamic approach ensures that a diverse array of engineers receives recognition and highlights the multifaceted nature of engineering. 

Founded by WES in 2016, the WE50 awards is a UK event linked to INWED, in association with The Guardian newspaper, the 2023 Top 50 Women in Engineering Awards will this year be focused on the women who are engaged in safety and security and who #MakeSafetySeen. But every year, there is a new list of 50 women who are doing very different forms of engineering, with very different journeys and stories. The awards provide ongoing inspiration for the breadth and impact of engineering. 

I love this year’s theme, particularly from the perspective of diversity and inclusion. It encompasses various crucial aspects. Firstly, the emphasis on safety resonates strongly with engineers, who are experts in this field. It is wonderful that we are highlighting their invaluable contributions to safety. When we consider physical safety, we also confront the glaring inequalities that women continue to face. There are numerous instances that highlight this issue. Recently, I was struck by the number of women still enduring discomfort because personal protective equipment is primarily designed for men. It is disheartening to witness such a situation persisting even in 2023. 

Joanna shared her thoughts on #MakeSafetySeen: “I wholeheartedly support this theme because the recognition it brings to the concept of psychological safety, which is now commonly associated with the broader notion of safety. This is tremendously exciting for individuals working in diversity and inclusion because it signifies a significant advancement. However, we still have a long way to go before everyone can genuinely feel psychologically safe in their work environments.” 

NMITE (New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering) is on a mission to diversify the engineering industry, not only by providing graduates that are work ready, but by actively recruiting and supporting women in engineering to help address the gender imbalance that has long been prevalent in the industry. Through its innovative learning styles and curriculum, NMITE is equipping its graduates with the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in their chosen careers. 

Professor Beverley Gibbs, Chief Academic Officer at NMITE, commented on #MakeSafetySeen:“We know that safety only really works when it works for everyone. From safety signage that works for colleagues with colour vision deficiency, to PPE that fits the shapes and sizes of women’s bodies, inclusive safety practices that protect all engineers as they go about their important work is non-negotiable. Engineering is about making the world a better and ultimately safer place.” 

Two of the student respondents, Finlay Neate and Elise Cummings, are both part of NMITE’s founding ‘Pioneer Cohort’ who will become the first NMITE Engineers when they graduate in 2024. They are also part of NMITE’s Women in STEM society which is currently being developed with the aim of enhancing students’ experience. Its mission is to support, empower and facilitate women to succeed and advance in STEM fields. 

Finlay Neate, MEng Integrated Engineering, NMITE and Communications Officer of the NMITE Women in STEM Society, said:“This year’s theme for International Women in Engineering Day is #MakeSafetySeen and as our degree is focusing on integrated engineering solutions to problems, we spend a lot of time considering how we can best solve challenges for clients.  

“One of the ways we can help with #MakeSafetySeen is by improving the gender balance in Engineering, ensuring more women are part of the design teams that keep us and our environments safe and secure. That’s something NMITE works hard to champion, and I am an active part of its Women in STEM society where we aim to provide a fun and safe space for women and other underrepresented groups, through a variety of activities and regular opportunities to learn from successful female engineers.

“An engineer I admire is Stephanie Kwolek who invented Kevlar in the 1960s. Kevlar is a lightweight fibre that is five-times stronger than steel relative to its weight. Thanks to her work in materials development, Kevlar is now used in about 200 different applications, including bulletproof vests, helping to keep people safe.” 

Elise Cummings, MEng Integrated Engineering, NMITE and Vice President of the NMITE Women in STEM Society said: “When I consider what has inspired me most recently in engineering, I would say attending the WES Annual Conference and learning about the work being done in engineering around security, and what specifically is being done to consider the impact on women who are disproportionally affected by the issue.

“For me, the most exciting thing about being an engineer is the problem solving and being able to see how your work improves the lives of others, making it feel like you can make a difference in the world. I am currently exploring this as a student, through NMITE’s model of always working towards a goal with an industry or community partner in our modules.” 

It starts at school

The significance of role models and early engagement with children, especially before they make educational choices, cannot be overstated. The Attitudes to Industry report, previously mentioned, revealed that a considerable majority of individuals (76%) believe it is crucial to encourage school-aged girls to understand engineering and pursue subjects that can lead to engineering careers. However, this figure drops slightly to 68% among people aged 25-34.  

One exemplary company making significant strides in this field is Primary Engineer. They have developed a comprehensive engineering curriculum that spans across early years, primary, secondary, and further education institutions. Their primary objectives include fostering the growth and development of children and young people through engaging with engineering, promoting engineering careers through inspiring programmes and competitions, enhancing the engineering skills of teachers and practitioners, and addressing the existing inequalities within the engineering field. Primary Engineers’ efforts are commendable and is contributing to cultivating a future generation of diverse and talented engineers. 

​The company has developed a project-based learning approach to education which enables children and pupils to engage with practical maths and science alongside creative problem solving and literacy. It has been described as STEM by Stealth due to the integrated curriculum nature of the programmes which also develop resilience and curiosity. ​Strong links to engineers and the industries they work in provides an opportunity for both pupils and teachers to expand their knowledge of careers, career paths and opportunities.

During my conversation with Susan Scurlock, Founder and CEO of Primary Engineer, I asked her about her thoughts on what more needs to be done. She expressed a somewhat contentious viewpoint, noting that every female engineer she has met has been incredibly inspiring. However, she believes that in classrooms, this inspiration can sometimes intimidate students, making them feel inadequate to follow in the footsteps of these remarkable women.

Susan emphasised that INWED should also highlight the importance of ordinary individuals entering classrooms. These are the people who may not possess a commanding presence or lead extraordinary projects, but can share their experiences as engineers from ordinary backgrounds. Their contributions are often undervalued.

The perception of engineering often portrays the sector as a domain reserved for academic elites, with a godlike status only attainable by the top performers. Susan advocates for a shift in this perception. She believes in making engineering an ordinary and accessible career choice for children, where they can genuinely believe that they, too, have the potential to pursue and excel in this field.

Susan further elaborated on the strong interest in engineering within primary school classrooms due to its ability to provide context to the world around us. However, a recurring challenge lies in the limited time allocated for teaching sciences in the primary curriculum, often amounting to just one hour per week.

The transition to secondary school brings its own set of barriers. Susan stressed the significance of establishing an annual activity or initiative that reinforces the understanding of what engineers are and what they do. By regularly refreshing this knowledge, children can better recognise a potential pathway into engineering.

She emphasised: “All of these opportunities contribute to building children’s capacity to identify a pathway. It is a challenging landscape, and changes are necessary. We not only need engineers working in the field of engineering, but we also need everyone to be aware of the sector and its impact. Additionally, it is crucial to support engineers within the engineering sector. One does not have to be an engineer to contribute to the field of engineering!”  

Susan’s insights highlight the need for continuous engagement with engineering throughout a child’s educational journey. Overcoming time constraints in primary schools and fostering awareness and support for engineers across various sectors are essential steps toward cultivating a more inclusive and well-rounded understanding of engineering.  

T Level stories 

Mia is studying a T Level in Design Engineering at Runshaw College in Lancashire. She is due to start an industry placement in a few weeks at Holden Engineering to work on manufacturing and welding for many different projects. She said: “I chose to do a T Level in Design Engineering as it gives you the academic side of what you would get in an A Level, while also getting a real insight into what the industry is like. Being female in a potentially male dominated space is a bit scary – especially coming from an all-girls school. However, the college and its facilities are helping to bring more women into STEM. 

“After my T Level I want to do a Degree Apprenticeship in aerodynamics and animatronics so that I can become a rollercoaster designer. I’ve had an interest in rollercoasters since I was young, and in year 6, I decided I wanted to do engineering. This college has helped me realise that my love for engineering and rollercoasters could be paired together.” 

Daisy is studying a T Level in Design Engineering at Runshaw College in Lancashire. She is due to do an industry placement where she will help design and manufacture surgical equipment. She said: “I’m doing a T level because I am more of a hands-on and visual learner rather that learning from books. On this course, we have been taken on many visits and tours and I have noticed how male dominated the STEM workplace might be. It’s made me realise that more female engineers are needed as we can add different perspectives, ideas and experiences. 

“After this, I want to do a Degree Apprenticeship in mechanical engineering or automotive engineering as I grew up watching Formula One. Going into a career in this field would be really interesting. Being on a course with a female teacher has also helped me a lot, and there is no discrimination so I never feel like anyone is saying ‘you can’t do this’.”  

Marika is a T Level course leader for Design, Development and Manufacturing Engineering at Runshaw College in Lancashire said: “It’s important to get more women into STEM subjects and engineering, and to stop the misconception it is a male dominated field. It needs to be balanced and we want to encourage young female students to think about their future careers in engineering and how successful they can be. 

“We have female students who have a range of interests in the broad world of engineering. As we see the development of more future technologies, we need to get the female slant on this progress and support innovative ideas coming from women.” 

Find next level engineering talent with T Levels. Click here to find out more.


Why is it important?

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) are fundamental to embracing the diverse perspectives and aspects of individuals within our society, particularly within the engineering field. By fostering a wider acceptance of people from various backgrounds, we unlock a broader range of solutions and drive innovation.

While the concept of EDI has been discussed for years, it was often lacking empirical data and studies to support its importance. However, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) conducted a study that shed light on the powerful impact of diverse leadership teams on innovation. The study revealed a robust and statistically significant correlation between the diversity of management teams and the overall level of innovation within companies. The study found that companies with higher diversity on their management teams demonstrated a significant 19% point increase in revenue compared to companies with below average diversity in leadership. 

This research by BCG provides tangible evidence that embracing diversity in leadership positions leads to enhanced innovation. It highlights the necessity of actively promoting EDI in engineering and recognises the value it brings to organisations. By embracing diversity and fostering an inclusive environment, we can harness the full potential of diverse perspectives and drive forward groundbreaking advancements in engineering. 

The Attitudes to Industry survey also found that just over six in ten (64%) of men feel that promoting diversity of all kinds is beneficial to the workplace; this figure rises to eight in ten (80%) among women respondents. 

While this article highlights the celebration of women in engineering, it is crucial to recognise that diversity encompasses more than just gender. Intersectionality plays a vital role in understanding the complex layers of diversity and lived experiences. For instance, a group of middle-aged white men can still exhibit diversity in terms of their backgrounds and life experiences.  

Dawn, the former Engineering Director of Gatwick Airport, shared a self-imposed study she conducted to emphasise the importance of diversity to the airport management board. She formed a team composed entirely of female engineers to demonstrate that solely focusing on gender diversity would not guarantee success. Her intention was to illustrate that true diversity requires inclusivity across various dimensions.  

While it may be easier to measure gender diversity, the current representation of 16.5% women in engineering falls short of where it should be. However, achieving diversity is not about exclusively forming all-female teams or solely embracing specific neurodiversity. True diversity encompasses a range of perspectives and experiences. Only through inclusive practices can we foster a culture of innovation and achieve genuine diversity across the board. The message here is clear: inclusivity and a holistic approach are essential for achieving meaningful diversity in engineering and driving innovation forward.