The first ever National Women in Engineering Day in the UK was on 23rd June. The day, devised and coordinated by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), aimed to celebrate the achievements of women in engineering and support and inspire the next generation of women to achieve their goals.
Why is there a need for a national women in engineering day? There is a significant gender disparity in the STEM workforce in the UK:
- only 7.5% of the engineering workforce are women – the worst performance in Europe;
- in 2012 48% of all state schools in the UK failed to send a single girl to study A-level physics. This limits girls’ career options as well as their earning potential;
- this is not to do with ability. If a boy gets an A* at GCSE physics, the likelihood of him taking A-level is around 50%. For a girl with the same grade this figure stands at around 20%.
This is a matter or social justice as well as an economic imperative. Its time to take real action and make real change.
At the central WES conference I presented our report ‘Through Both Eyes: the case for a gender lens in STEM’ which explores the barriers to girls and women entering STEM careers and makes practical recommendations for change. This report calls the STEM community to detect the unconscious gender biases that permeate our society, homes, classrooms and workplaces and dismantle them. Stereotypes and unconscious bias undermine real choice. We must start to take them seriously.
We don’t need to make STEM about lipstick, or make girls and women feel they have to conform. Instead, the solution is to make STEM inclusive by showing that it is about creativity, imagination, changing the world, and that it offers a wealth of opportunity – that there are many ways into STEM, and even more ways to go forwards. Gender is only one aspect of the STEM stereotype, and so an active focus on busting the stereotype open has positive implications for widening the talent pool by appealing to a diverse range of identities.
At ScienceGrrl we believe that we need to build up understanding and momentum around this issue, which is why we wholeheartedly support initiatives like National Women in Engineering day- especially when it instigates real practical actions. With over 80 events happening across the country, ScienceGrrl was keen to get involved in the action and we sent a group of ScienceGrrl ‘roving reporters’ to some of the coolest looking events:
- Claire Sand, a PhD student at Kings College London, visited the Ford event, where students were invited to a site tour and speak to the employees;
- Rachael Fernandes, a student at Nottingham University, went to the finals of Crossrail’s “Engineer You Future” competition;
- our London chapter lead, Indrayani Ghangrekar went to a ‘Women in Nuclear’ event; and
- co-director Anna Zecharia and I went to the central conference organised by WES.
Look out for articles about each of these events being published in this series throughout the coming days!