Women in Engineering: Past, Present and Future
On 23 June I travelled to London for the British Gas Business panel event, which I saw as a brilliant opportunity for me to learn and to broaden my social and professional horizon. Meeting with bloggers from a range of disciplines including politics, business and lifestyle highlighted to me the influence of engineering in fields that I had never imagined.
The panel consisted of women who are all established in different aspects of engineering including Claire Miles, Managing Director of British Gas Homecare; Nadia Abbas, British Gas Engineer and Success Coach; Dr Arti Agarwal, Professor in the School of Mathematics at City University and Dawn Bonfield, President of the Women in Engineering Society.
The discussion kicked off with the Chair, Dicken Ross, asking a thought-provoking question to our panellists which had them looking to the past: "Who is your favourite female engineer role model?”, and it was impressive to hear that World War II aeronautical engineer Beatrice Shilling is a major source of inspiration to Dawn. The discussion of role models lead to the realisation that both male and female engineers are not celebrated enough in the media and are often associated with failings in technology or procedures rather than with their successes. This is something we continue to battle with and are yet to know how our profiles can be raised in a positive way.
Dicken then turned the discussion to the future and asked the question many want an answer to: "How can our generation attract more women into engineering?” Numerous studies have shown that roughly 60% of the time it is parents who strongly influence the chosen career path of their children. Dr Agarwal suggested that if parents tend towards science-orientated toys, activities and outings for both male and female children it would help break down the stereotypes and allow a healthy curiosity for science to bloom.
One of the pressing issues identified by Claire was that once in the engineering profession, many females plateau or stop practicing after starting a family. Dawn (who no longer practices) suggested that tailoring maternity leave to each woman’s needs could help to retain many more female engineers and I believe this to be something that large companies should consider for the future. Claire also mentioned that the future of engineering would see a move towards more green technologies, commenting that “This will require engineers of a different skillset”. This is an exciting prospect, one that will open many more doors for female engineers.
For more on National Women in Engineering Day with British Gas, visit the webpage.
1st Year MSci Chemistry and President of WISE