SHORTAGE OF WOMEN ENGINEERS ‘NOT JUST A WOMEN’S ISSUE’ - The BESA
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Monday, June 26, 2017

SHORTAGE OF WOMEN ENGINEERS ‘NOT JUST A WOMEN’S ISSUE’

Men need to take more responsibility for the shortage of women entering engineering professions, according to the President of the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE).

Speaking during International Women in Engineering Day (INWED), Professor Dame Ann Dowling said the UK had fewer female engineers than almost any other developed country in the world and that fathers, husbands and male friends had a crucial role to play in encouraging women to take up careers in technical professions.

Hundreds of events took place across the globe to support INWED and this year was the first time the UK’s annual celebration of women in engineering had an international element supported by UNESCO.  It is always held on June 23, which is the day the organising body the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), was founded in 1919.

“There has never been a better time for parents to encourage their girls to embark on a career in engineering,” said Simone Hart Sibbald from the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA), which sponsored the day’s events for the second year in a row.

Potential
“The career potential has never been greater because, alongside a very real skills shortage, there is clear and tangible evidence of greater acceptance of the way women can contribute in this male dominated sector.”

Although she still finds herself sitting in industry meetings where she is outnumbered 20 to 1, Ms Sibbald, who is chair of BESA Scotland, said “there is nothing but respect for me”.

“Building engineers have the skills and the tools to really improve working and living conditions for thousands of people – and that should be a great motivator for any woman looking for a rewarding career. It has certainly been a huge driver for me, personally, and for my business.”

INWED 2017 saw the naming of the top 50 women in engineering under the age of 35, following a judging process that had to choose between more than 500 entries, and Dame Dowling said it was vital to have “fantastic role models” to encourage more young women to consider engineering careers.

The day also took the theme: ‘Men as Allies’ and Dame Dowling told the top 50 and their guests that the shortage of women engineers was not just a “women’s issue” because it was good for business.

“We need male allies at home, but we also need them in the workplace,” she told the Top 50 launch event, which was held at the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) in London. “This needs to be led from the top because it makes good business sense. Evidence clearly shows that diversity drives innovation and creativity – and has a direct impact on financial performance.

“Men can do a huge amount to help women overcome the barriers that stop them taking up and then advancing their engineering careers,” added Dame Dowling, who called on male engineers to take on the role of mentors to young women and encourage their peers to do the same.

Just 9% of engineers in the UK are women and WES has set a target of raising that figure to 30% by 2030. The number of women at the top of engineering firms also “remains stubbornly low”.

“A woman will often not apply for a position until they satisfy all the criteria,” said Dame Dowling. “However, a man will just ‘have a go’ and often they succeed. We need to encourage women to have that same confidence and take a chance.”

WES President Benita Mehra pointed out that women were shaping the political future of the UK and Europe and that the most senior figures in the UK’s emergency services were all women.

“Women are reaching the top,” she said. “It’s true of today’s emergency services so why not tomorrow’s engineers?”

She called on women to be inspired by the Suffragettes, who campaigned for gender equality in the wake of the First World War and whose efforts led directly to the founding of WES. “They did it because were told they couldn’t get more women into technical professions” despite the work they had been called on to do during the war.

Chasm
She said the lack of gender diversity was creating a “chasm” in engineering skills. The RAE’s figures show that 20,000 additional graduate and higher level apprenticeship engineers will be needed every year between now and 2024 to meet predicted demand.

The industry will, therefore, have to look beyond traditional routes including from the Arts to attract the talent it needs, according to Ms Mehra.

“We pride ourselves on finding elegant solutions to complex problems – and problem solvers don’t need to come only from the technical sector,” she said. “We need more creative people.”

WES is also looking forward to the day when there is no need for events just aimed at women, according to its chief executive Kirsten Bodley.

“Our vision is for a world where a woman is just as likely to work in engineering as a man,” she told the Top 50 event.

“A lot of fathers have encouraged their daughters to follow in their footsteps and not be what society or their school told them they should be. Engineering is all around us; so let’s aim to make sure at least a third of our engineers are women,” said Ms Bodley.

www.wes.org.uk

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