Celebrating International Women in Engineering Day

Rhianne Boag, INS Engineering Analyst, explains why she pursued a career in engineering, and why it’s important that we encourage more girls and women to take up science and technology subjects in order to plug the skills gap.

According to the Equal Opportunities Commission, 92% of hairdressing apprentices are female and 97% of engineering manufacturing apprentices are male.

Now, I’ve got nothing against hairdressers – I recognise the importance of a good trim as much as anyone – but clearly something has to change if we’re going to address this imbalance, and encourage more women and girls into engineering careers.

International Women in Engineering Day

That’s one of the aims of International Women in Engineering Day (INWED17), which is taking place around the world today.

Set up in 2014 by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) to celebrate its 95th anniversary, this national, and now international, awareness day focuses attention on the amazing careers in engineering and technical roles, especially for girls and young women, and celebrates the achievements of women engineers.

It troubles me that women make up less than 10% of the engineering sector in the UK.

And yet there really are an amazing variety of engineering jobs out there. That’s one of the things that really attracted me to pursue a career in engineering.

Engineering is about tackling global challenges like making the world a safer place, climate change mitigation and affordable renewable energy, providing clean water supplies, finding solutions to look after an ageing population, the use of robotics and artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence and many, many, more.

Why shouldn’t these challenges and opportunities have diverse teams of engineers working on them? I think we need to move away from the outdated image of engineering as all about grease and dirt, and big toys for boys.

The nuclear sector

I studied mechanical engineering for five years at the University of Strathclyde after which I was lucky enough to join the nucleargraduates scheme.

The nuclear sector, like engineering more widely, does suffer from gender imbalance with the percentage of women working across the industry at around the 20% mark.

But my sense is that things are getting better. Around half of members of the nucleargraduates scheme are female, and it’s broadly the same for the Nuclear Institute’s Young Generation Network.

Often, we’re involved in STEM ambassador work, promoting science and technology in schools which all helps to attract more professionals from the next generation. I think it’s vital that we let young people, especially girls, know that the engineering and nuclear jobs industry exists and offers great career paths.

I also see increasing commitment across the industry. For example Women in Nuclear (WiN) was established to address the industry’s gender balance, improve the representation of women in leadership and to engage with the public on nuclear issues. Over 40 companies have now signed the WiN’s Industry Charter and made various pledges.

International Nuclear Services

One of those companies is International Nuclear Services (INS), the organisation I work for now.

INS is a subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and a world leading transporter of nuclear materials. I’m part of a 20 strong team of nuclear package design experts who have decades of experience in disciplines such as finite element analysis, shielding, criticality assessments and mechanical design.

My role is to create finite element computer models of nuclear transport packages and simulate accident conditions to analyse their integrity and performance.

INS is an exciting and diverse company which prides itself on delivering specialist nuclear services. I really enjoy the responsibility I have, with support from my colleagues, knowing that the analysis I run can help to support a package licence or safety case.

It’s just one role in a wide range of engineering roles on offer in the nuclear industry.

Engineering really is a people-focused, problem solving, socially-beneficial and rewarding discipline for everyone.

With a skills gap looming and research pointing to the clear benefits of a more diverse workforce, it has never been more important to inspire more people, especially women, to choose a career in engineering.

My advice to any girl thinking about taking it up? Go for it!