Annually on the 23rd June, International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) takes place. A day that not only campaigns and celebrates the work and achievements of women engineers but inspires women of all ages to explore all the career opportunities that are available to them.
In light of INWED 2021, I caught up with Rachel Hurst, COO of Domino Printing Sciences to discuss how we can encourage more women into STEM fields.
One of the biggest issues when encouraging women to choose STEM careers is the stereotypes that remain. While manufacturing and engineering industries are becoming more and more diverse, the same outdated image remains.
For a young girl looking at entering the field, a lack of role model that looks like her is rarely highlighted. The image must be broadened to show role models of all ages, genders and ethnicities and to eliminate the age-old stereotype that to be an engineer you must fit into a certain bracket.
The hindrance of stereotypes and lack of role models is something Rachel says can be eliminated in schools through proper education of what a STEM career can entail. When looking at what career to choose children mostly turn to parents and teachers for inspiration, and if they are not fully aware of the broad opportunities that the field can provide then this may unintentionally hinder children from applying.
This, however, can be improved with employer engagement in the early stages of schooling and education.
“There’s a huge amount employers can do to help school aged children to get inspired about engineering,” Rachel said.
“Giving them an early idea about what they might want to do and starting to map that out for them is a huge thing employers can do to help school aged children get inspired at primary school age and especially before they’ve taken their GCSEs”.
Rachel stressed the importance of reaching children before they choose GCSE subjects, as subject selection inevitably narrows down their position for what career they can choose. Additionally, helping to understand their personal strengths and weaknesses or preferences can help to identify early, those with potential in STEM careers for the future.
Reaching children, especially young girls, at this age really is the best way to get them inspired, to show them that anyone can be successful in STEM if they really want to be. Employers can engage with primary schools so that more examples of engineering are shared, whether through direct education or liaising with careers advisors. STEM related teachers, Rachel suggested, should be helped by professional engineering institutions to “relate some of those academic subjects into real life, so young people can start to understand the linkage between what they’re learning and their potential future career.”
Entering the field
Rachel emphasised the improvements that have been made in entering the field as a woman, however some issues still remain. While assumptions that a woman may not know what she is talking about in her engineering position have long changed, an atmosphere of collective collaboration and inclusion still needs to be encouraged.
She gave the example, engineers are often introverted, so it is easy to be overlooked, if you are a woman and an introvert the likeliness of being overlooked becomes so much higher. This stretches across any minority in any business; an inclusive culture of discussion and communication is vitally important to support and retain employees in their career.
Retaining and supporting staff also stretches to flexible working practices for women with children. “You’ve got to have diversity and the required flexibility at the heart” Rachel said, “otherwise you just won’t meet the needs of employees and will miss out on the potential commercial benefits of truly effective levels of diversity in a business.”
In closing, Rachel touched on foundational issues that she believes are vital in encouraging more women into STEM careers. Going back to reaching young girls at school age, she pointed out the educational gap that exists due to COVID-19.
“Companies are trying to improve their engagement with schools. Digital medias and material online are a real opportunity to help improve that engagement with the curriculum for STEM subjects – and not all children have access to this. Access to careers advice has really fallen to its lowest level since the start of the pandemic, so we really need to catch back up and provide more variety in accessing these materials for children from all backgrounds.
“Access could be a problem because a child doesn’t have a device, or if they have a device but they haven’t got a network to connect to – this leads to a widening of the skills gap we hear about in the news.”
To Rachel, this is a really important element to look at when creating initiatives to encourage women into STEM careers. Digital enablement is a key aspect of learning and preparing children for the workplace and a key access point for materials in STEM areas and increasing career engagement with professional engineering institutions and potential employers.
For any young girl wanting to begin a career in a STEM field, Rachel reiterated that anyone can progress if they want to. Stereotypes were made to be broken, and they certainly don’t mean you haven’t got what it takes to succeed.
For more info on International Women in Engineering Day visit the website here.