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Just 7% of engineers are female, making a change starts with you

12 November 2015

Yesterday at the everywoman Academy: Advancing Women in Engineering, women from the industry met to gain inspiration from role models and discuss issues facing women in the workplace. One re-occurring theme was how engineers can encourage the next generation of girls to follow in their footsteps.

Social media has become a catalyst for social change, frequented with global and local issues that need addressing, but there’s one in particular that keeps on cropping up – the need to address the gender imbalance in the STEM industries.

Engineering’s story is particularly bleak, just 7% of the workforce is female and there’s a skills gap. As a result, the Government’s #NotJustForBoys campaign has gained support from the Women’s Engineering Society and WISE to inspire girls to see engineering as a viable career choice.  Meanwhile, the tongue-in-cheek #DistractinglySexy and #ILookLikeAnEngineer hashtag that followed months later, gained the support of thousands of women who took to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to fight gender stereotypes by sharing their story or hilarious workplace selfies – to prove the point there’s nothing ‘distractingly sexy’ about wearing goggles and a lab coat, whatever your gender.


Our corporate partner EDF Energy’s new campaign, Pretty Curious, has exactly the same premise, dispelling the myths that girls can’t, won’t or don’t do STEM, with an exciting programme of events that introduce girls to women who already enjoy a career in the sector.

 

But in order for real change to happen, should our involvement extend beyond words and photos on a screen?

At the everywoman Academy: Advancing Women in Engineering, our speakers and panellists were also concerned about the lack of girls in STEM and they offered alternative ways to drive that change.

Commander Sophie Shaughnessy, a Marine Engineer Officer in the Royal Navy for over 20 years, told the crowd of women in engineering: “The change starts right here with you, I urge everyone to go to schools, go to your universities and tell them how wonderful engineering is.” Meanwhile, Helen Wilkes, an Accessory Business Unite Leader for GE Aviation, who also founded the company’s women’s network said: “Bring them to you. At GE Aviation we have open days where they come to our office, where they can see, touch and feel.”

Face-to-face interaction could play a critical part in changing mindsets of girls, especially as many aren’t clear what engineering is: “I speak to girls who think that engineering is men in overalls fixing cars,” said our panellist John Eldridge, Principle Engineer at Cammell Laird and a dedicated mentor.

 

For those in the know, they’re enthusiastic about engineering, and it’s that kind of energy that needs broadcasting to young women and men too.

In our keynote speech, Linda Miller, a Project Manager for Crossrail, was clearly enthralled with her role in its construction. The Crossrail is Europe’s largest construction project that will span 118km, transport 24 trains per hour and make 200 million journeys per year. She also spoke of giant tunnel machines, 1,000 tonnes in weight – it’s no wonder she’s excited.

All of our panellists and speakers shared the same pride in their roles and their part in innovating, problem-solving and creating something new. Our keynote speaker, Jacqueline Castle, a Wing Chief Engineer at Airbus, coordinates a team of 700 wing engineers working in the UK, France, Germany and the US, undertaking the most challenging aircraft development project at Airbus to date.  How many of us can say that? It’s these kinds of stories we need to keep on sharing, online and offline.

 

We’d like to thank our key partners, Airbus and the Royal Academy of Engineering; our supporting partners, GE and the Royal Navy; our media partner, the Manufactuter; and our distribution partners, semta and the Women’s Engineering Society (WES).