The inaugural National Women in Engineering day was held last month, with over 80 events across the country to celebrate female engineers and to inspire a new generation of girls. One of these was “Engineer Your Future”, a competition run by Crossrail, where 30 winners were invited to Crossrail HQ for a series of workshops and to take a look around. So on behalf on ScienceGrrl, I nipped down to Canary Wharf to have a chat to the girls and Crossrail about the day.
Women make up 8.5% of the engineering workforce in Britain, which is extremely poor compared to the rest of Europe. Yet, with massive projects such as Crossrail, HS2, and Thames Tideway underway, the demand for engineers is rising. So why is the proportion of women so low? And what can we do to make it increase?
The competition involved students completing challenges and workshops through MyKindaCrowd on the theme of encouraging more women in engineering. There were plenty of creative ideas, from having celebrity endorsements, to running workshops, to creating a TV show. A major theme was that they felt there is a lack of female role models within the industry and popular culture. They pointed out how celebrities such as Mayim Bialik and Natalie Portman have science degrees, which are rarely mentioned in the media.
It also became apparent that schools weren’t educating them in what engineering was. They said most people knew that it was making and designing, but schools’ weren’t explaining the details of what engineering actually involved. I too had a similar experience at school, I finished my A-Levels two years ago, and hadn’t really heard of engineering until everyone was applying to university; and I didn’t find out what was involved in engineering until I arrived at university. Many of the girls had ideas including engineers being involved at schools, especially before they pick A-Levels.
Crossrail’s day enabled the girls attending to discover more about the industry, learn new skills, and network with a range of people, including Transport Minister, Stephen Hammond MP, and Crossrails’ chief executive, Andrew Wolstenholme. The five winners have also been provided with a yearlong mentorship from leading Crossrail engineers. There was also an opportunity to visit the Canary Wharf site, which was over 200 metres underground. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see engineering in action.
Stephen Hammond said, “Getting young women interested in construction and engineering is vital to the future of the industry and for the UK’s long-term economic growth.’ This was a sentiment repeated to me by the many Crossrail employees that I met. Diversity is important because a variety of people are more like to produce different and creative solutions.
Perception is everything. Engineering has traditionally been seen as a masculine job, connected to dirty tunnels and heavy lifting, when in fact that is not what it is at all. Many of the girls felt things were going to improve slowly, as it takes time to remove stereotypes. But days like this are a fantastic place to start.
Rachael Fernandez @rachreviewsall
Rachael is a Natural Sciences student at the University of Nottingham, specialising in Chemistry and Maths.