Some inspiring takeaways from the conference at Birmingham offices of the Institution of Engineering and Technology
Sunday 16 July 2017 may not go down in history for Roger Federer clinching a record-breaking eighth Wimbledon men’s title or Lewis Hamilton winning a historic fifth British Grand Prix at Silverstone, but rather for Jodie Whittaker being announced as the new Doctor Who.
There have been 12 Doctors before her, all men, since the science-fiction franchise began in 1963.
Although the announcement was dramatically revealed on the BBC, following a shroud of secrecy and much speculation for weeks, I found out through the furore that ensued on Twitter.
Firstly as a feminist, secondly because I think she’s a brilliant actor and thirdly because what a great role model for young girls who are fans of the show.
It also made me immediately think of a conversation amongst female engineers I’d heard on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour programme a few weeks back. It was part of the The Woman’s Hour Takeover Week in which a different host effectively takes over the show for that day.
On 28 June the broadcast was led by Dame Ann Dowling, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, with, amongst other guests, Naomi Climer, the immediate past president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).
Climer spoke about how we need to change the stereotype of engineers in this country and one way is for the media to portray women in all sorts of different engineering roles. She felt that Doctor Who – who she would argue is effectively an engineer – should be portrayed by a woman (I’m guessing she whooped when she heard the news too!).
In fact, this very theme was also addressed a few days earlier on International Women in Engineering Day at the #9PercentIsNotEnough conference, held at the IET’s Birmingham offices (nine per cent being how many women are currently in the engineering and technology workforce).
Nadia Savage, director at Laing O’Rourke, a multinational construction company, kicked off the morning session by stating the huge influence the media has over our young people and how many hours of media content they absorb everyday. She said that we have to depict engineering in a positive light and get inspiring female engineering role models in front of the camera.
“Fundamentally, it is really hard to be what you cannot see,” she said.
This led on to another discussion about changing the language of how we sell engineering to girls. Clare Wildfire, chair, advance network and global practice lead for cities, at construction company Mott MacDonald, went on to say: “In the construction industry engineering has a major role in helping to save the planet. I think that is one of the things that will attract girls. I read recently that UCL [University College London] received an immediate increase in the number of girls applying for civil engineering courses when they dropped the requirement for A-Level maths and physics.
“So actually girls don’t choose the profession to be an engineer they choose that profession because they want to improve people’s lives. So in terms of how we sell it, I think the key point is solving problems.”
Of course, getting more women into engineering doesn’t only bolster the engineering ranks (which is desperately needed) but there was also much discussion about how a gender balanced workforce can benefit everyone.
Peter Flint, chief executive, building and places EMIA at engineering firm AECOM, said, “Our business is really about creativity and to be creative we need teams to work together and it is proven that diverse teams can actually be more creative.
“So its fundamental to business to have a diverse workforce and not have a single gender dominant. At AECOM we are striving to create diverse teams who can flourish because of a highly inclusive culture.”
Both Elizabeth Hill, chief product engineer at Jaguar LandRover, and Mark Elborne, CEO and president of GE UK and Ireland, spoke about what their respective companies are doing to address this imbalance with various apprenticeship, graduate and employment schemes.
But, as Flint rightfully argued, everyone in the company needs to be onboard with getting more female engineers and technologists into the company – it has to be driven from the managers at the top, who take this agenda seriously and support it, and then encouraged at grass roots too.
He suggests having it as a key performance indicator (KPI) within the business because then everyone is accountable and involved in creating this inclusive culture. As he says, which was the standout quote from the conference for me, “Men have a massive role in addressing this issue, there should be more men in the room today, it’s not just a women’s issue to solve.”
There you go. Let’s work together in moving that needle from nine per cent into double figures!
Inspiring takeaways from International Women in Engineering Day 2017