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Engineering is everywhere!

As we arrive at the sixth International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) on the 23rd June, 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.

I’m sure you’ve all heard this before; I beat this drum fairly regularly but in case you’ve managed to miss it in the past, here goes.

The National Women in Engineering Day was launched for the first time in the UK on 23 June 2014. Since the launch the day has grown enormously over the subsequent years to the point where it received UNESCO patronage in 2016. In 2017, National Women in Engineering Day became international for the first time due to the interest and enthusiasm developed by the international audience and participants in the previous years. In 2019, as well as celebrating the sixth INWED, it is also marking 100 years of the Women’s Engineering Society in the UK. ​

The Women’s Engineering Society is a charity which started in 1919 at the end of the First World War when the women who had worked in technical jobs during the war wanted to continue with this work. A change of law to ensure that the country reverted to a pre-war setting when the War finished meant that women were unable to continue with their (engineering) jobs, and were unwanted in the technical professions. The pioneering and influential women of the time set up the Women’s Engineering Society, and have been working since that time to ensure equality for women in this non-traditional sector.

Obviously we have come a long way from the end of the War, and it’s probably not a shock to you that women are indeed successful in science and engineering. However, it’s pretty clear that these careers are still heavily dominated by the male gender.

According to the 2018 Engineering Report only 12.37% of all engineers in the UK are women. This has increased from last year, and the year before that but it’s still a dreadfully small number. What I find really interesting is that nearly half (46.4%) of all girls aged 11-14 would consider a career in engineering, but by the age of 16-18  the number of those interested  has fallen to 25.4%. I’m not interested just because of the girl power; the same trend is shown for young boys. Aged 11-14, 70.3% of boys would consider engineering as a career option, but by the time they reach 16-18 this has reduced to 51.9%. Somewhere along the line we are losing their interest in pursuing such a varied and diverse career.

INWED is a great platform to raise awareness of the amazing things being achieved by fellow female engineers all across the world – remember in April 2019 when the first ever image of a black hole was taken? Dr Katie Bouman led the creation of the computer algorithm that allowed scientists and engineers to make this possible. How many of you even knew her name?

I’m obviously biased, I love engineering. There is such a massive range of things involved the possibilities are limitless. I was recently asked: ‘what is engineering? Describe  in one word’. Think about it – I bet you find it tricky to summarise it all in one word. The Cambridge Dictionary states ‘Engineering is the study of using scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, and other things, including bridges, roads, vehicles, and buildings’. This feels very limited to me, and also is not just one word. What about the materials? Or the electronics? Or the AI algorithms, the chemistry, the human interaction? Engineering is all around us. Then it hit me – I’ve found my word. Engineering is EVERYWHERE.

The theme for INWED this year is #TransformTheFuture. I think there is so much we can do to transform the future in so many ways:

  • Change the perception that science, technology and engineering and maths (STEM) are male careers,
  • Promote changing STEM into STEAM by acknowledging Art actually overlaps all these disciplines. This isn’t just sketching apples and vases, but a broad term that represents liberal arts, language arts, social studies, physical arts, and fine arts and music. It’s not about spending less time on STEM subjects and more time on art, it’s about applying creative thinking to STEM projects
  • Get more children interested in STEAM through education,
  • Get more people into STEAM careers. (I always say people, not women here. The world is a much more effective place when the right people have the right jobs for their skillset, not just throwing women into areas to address a gender imbalance.)

The theme this year also feels particularly appropriate for INS:

  • We’re helping transform the future by supporting the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s mission and making the world a safer place.
  • We are continuing to provide solutions to legacy problems with radioactive materials, through a whole range of disciplines.
  • We are a major contributor to the decommissioning of Dounreay, and even helping formulate the future geological disposal facility with RWM.
  • INS is also helping transform the future by looking at the transport of large unorthodox items such as submarine reactor pressure vessels; all important stages in decommissioning.

So this week, take a moment to reflect on International Women in Engineering Day (INWED). Talk to your children about the idea of engineering, science, maths etc. Take a look around you and appreciate all the amazing things you do daily that wouldn’t have been possible without the advancements of technology. Maybe even get on social media and tweet #INWED19 #TransformTheFuture.

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