Jobs for the boys

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Looking at recent statistics it seems that engineering is very much a male dominated profession. Tanya Weaver considers how we can go about getting more females interested in engineering as a career
In early October I went along to the NX Technical Seminar in Leicester. As I walked in it became immediately apparent that I was in the minority – the gender minority.

A few rows behind me I did spot another lady, but in an event that organisers said had 120 attendees, that is pretty shocking. During the lunch break I couldn’t pick her out from the sea of suits to ask what her job role was. I hope it was engineering related.

I have been writing about engineering and design for almost nine years and it’s a recurring theme. In the product design agencies and manufacturers I’ve visited, as well as exhibitions and conferences, it’s obvious that this is a very male dominated industry. Even the journalists are predominantly men – I’m the only female in an all male editorial team.

Research proves it too. The UKRC, the government’s lead organisation for the under-representation of women in science, engineering, technology and the built environment (SET), recently published its Statistics Guide.

I do feel that young girls ned to be shown that careers in engineering can be varied, challenging and fun

The guide states that women make up only 12.3 per cent of all people working in all SET occupations. To achieve parity nearly four times as many women would need to take up work in the field.

So, what is the solution? Many argue that school teachers have a big part to play in making engineering related subjects engaging for young people and acting as role models. In fact, I’m not sure that teachers always realise the impact they can have on pupils.

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Speaking of my own experience, I knew from about the age of 12 that I wanted to be a journalist and I was very fortunate that all my English teachers throughout my schooling were really inspiring and passionate about their subject.

On the other hand my maths teacher in my last years of school (I went to an all-girls convent school in South Africa) scared me to death and I think that’s partly why I detested the subject. She had a poster of an eagle on the wall above her desk with the words ‘I’m watching you’ emblazoned underneath.

But other than maths and science we had no other design- or engineering-related subjects. We did have a ‘computer science’ lesson twice a week but this was taught by a doddering old nun who would drone on about how to layout presentations in PowerPoint.

So, in our last year we were very surprised when one of the girls announced that she wanted to study mechanical engineering at university. We had no idea what this entailed as it was considered a man’s job. I have no idea whether she did indeed pursue that career path but I very much hope so.

I do feel that young girls need to be shown that careers in engineering can be varied, challenging and fun. Perhaps the industry needs more inspirational female role models to really try to change perceptions and ignite passion.

There are organisations that are attempting to do this. For instance earlier this year The JCB Academy ran an event encouraging local Staffordshire schoolgirls between the ages of ten and eleven to see engineering as a credible career.

One of the young female guest engineers invited to take part was Lisa Wolseley-Hart, a design engineer at Haughton Design, a product design agency based in Stafford.

“We tried to make the whole experience as fun as possible in the hope that by being a personable, fun role model, engineering would be put on their radar from an early age and start to stamp out the misconceptions of engineering being a ‘male only’ career,” says Wolseley-Hart.

There really shouldn’t be this disparity between the sexes in engineering. Most engineering jobs don’t involve hard labour or ‘dirty work’ and women are just as competent at doing them as men.

In fact,UKRC research suggests that diverse teams that include both men and women are important to innovation and economic development. Let’s be honest, women think differently to men and this
varied outlook could even help generate new solutions, opportunities and products.

At the end of the day the UK needs more scientists, engineers and technologists at every level for economic recovery and females can help plug that gap. So, here’s hoping that I will see a few more skirts amongst all those suits at industry events in the future.

How can we get more females interested in engineering?
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