Forging a path for the future of engineering

Today 16.5% of engineers in the UK are female. Whilst this is still a very low figure, this is up from 10.5% in 2010, an increase of 6% and a vast improvement from the early ages of engineering.

In the 1911 census, not a single woman in the UK listed their profession as an engineer. This changed in 1912 when Nina Cameron Graham graduated from the University of Liverpool with a degree in Civil Engineering, and became the first British woman to qualify as an engineer in the UK.

Whilst the latest increase in UK female engineers is promising, we still need to do a lot more to get close to narrowing the gender gap and achieving gender parity in the industry.

Why has it taken decades for women to represent 16.5% of UK’s engineering population?

In the 18th and 19th centuries there were limited formal training opportunities for women to train as engineers, and many of the women who went into engineering were introduced to the industry through family companies or their spouses.

There are many women who have had a lasting impact within engineering such as Hertha Ayrton. She was a physicist, mathematician, inventor and a pioneer at a time when few women were engaged within STEM industries. Hertha Ayrton was the first woman to be elected to the Institution of Electrical Engineers, (now the IET) for her important contributions towards the study of electric arcs for large public indoor and outdoor lighting, used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The ‘Ayrton anti-gas fan’ was developed from her research into air vortices and water results. Its lifesaving application took the form of a simple hand-held device used to clear poisonous chemical gases from frontline trenches during World War 1.

In 1914, by the start of World War 1, many women were trained up in various forms of engineering to sustain the vital engineering and construction industry.

Female engineers helped to lead the allies to victory by constructing machinery, building ammunitions and transporting goods. This was the real start for women in engineering and in 1919, the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) was founded to protect these jobs for women, which would have otherwise been handed back to the men returning from the war.

WES was also formed to inspire, support and encourage women to become engineers, technicians, electricians, motor mechanics, construction workers, pilots, machine shop operatives, draughtswomen and every other type of engineer you can think of.

Today, the term engineer is linked to many different disciplines in engineering and involves a variety of engineering roles.

Despite the choice of roles within engineering expanding, this has not been matched when considering the diversity of the workforce, and females are still underrepresented.

Engineering is a platform for making a positive impact in the world – whether its developing new technologies or creating inventions to improve issues such as sustainability.

We need to change the perception of an engineering career – it is seen as a very technical industry which is hard to get into, and is typically associated with manufacturing, coding and software development, although the list of engineering disciplines is exponential.

Nationally the wider STEM community remains unrepresentative of the wider population, with only 17% of women and 11% of ethnic minorities pursuing STEM careers – this is the driving force behind our STEM promotion.

The Engineering Brand Monitor 2019 Survey (published by the Engineering Council) indicates that young people who attended a STEM careers activity in the previous 12 months were over 3 times as likely to consider a career in engineering than those who had not.

The rise in the uptake of female engineers inspire us at Techwuman to continue our STEM promotion and strive to achieve our mission as a company, to achieve gender parity in the industry.

We are an engineering consultancy specialising in design engineering for the critical national infrastructure, offering a variety of different design services which include high quality 3D designs and drawings.

What does Techwuman do to promote females into engineering?

Techwuman promotes STEM to the next generation by delivering STEM activity days to primary and secondary schools throughout the UK. We believe that STEM education has the potential to help address the longstanding skills shortage and aging workforce in the UK’s engineering industry.

Our STEM activity days provide pupils with the opportunity to think about their careers early on, which will help to inspire them to take up careers in industries they may not have considered before. This initiative has been a huge success, and so far, we have delivered to over 3,600 pupils.

We are proud that 70% of our Techwuman STEM ambassadors are female, giving females attending our STEM activity days the opportunity to interact with relatable role models from the engineering industry which can inspire them to pursue a career in a STEM industry.

As part of our give back, we also offer other initiatives such as mentorship, social media campaigns and motivational talks to inspire females considering a career in engineering. The Techwuman STEM ambassador programme brings together female engineers, providing a support structure and network to share industry knowledge and experience.

Techwuman collaborates with likeminded organisations who share the same STEM initiatives and goals to promote more females into engineering.

The RAF Youth STEM team & Techwuman are forging a path for the future of engineering by offering one of the largest and most effective STEM engagement programmes in the UK and, in particular, providing opportunities where none would otherwise exist.

As a highly technical service, the RAF continues to recognise the importance of high-quality youth STEM engagement. Raising awareness of the value of STEM subjects and their links to future career opportunities is essential for an RAF workforce that comprises more than 50% engineers and engineer technicians.

Together we aim to inspire young people of all backgrounds to choose and continue to study STEM subjects at GCSE, allowing them to pursue the many STEM career opportunities that exist, increasing diversity in the industry by encouraging those from ethnic minorities and lower socio-economic backgrounds. Early engagement at grass root level is imperative, as it challenges embedded stereotyping and encourages young people to consider non-traditional career pathways.

There is an increased focus on promoting STEM and initiatives which continually break established stereotypes and change preconceptions of engineering roles. By being changemakers in the industry, we can continue on our quest to find the next generation of engineers from groups who had previously not been aware of engineering, and show how rewarding and inclusive a role in this industry could be.

Let’s do more for engineering!

"“Our underpinning intent is to deliver a future talent pool with the right skills and motivation, that is more reflective of the society we serve.”"

-- Royal Air Force

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