Back in June Talented Talkers invited me along to a British Gas event to celebrate national Women in Engineering Day and the anniversary of the Women’s Gas Council.
The event took place in the form of a panel chaired by Dickson Ross, Editor of Engineering and Technology magazine and was made up of an extremely impressive group of women who have excelled within their fields;
- Claire Miles, Managing Director for British Gas Homecare
- Natalie Foster, British Gas female apprentice
- Dr Arti Agarwal, Professor from the School of Mathematics, Computer Science & Engineering at City University
- Lucy Ackland, Engineer and 2014 Women’s Engineering Society award winner
- Benita Mehra, Director of Property and PMO at Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and representative from the Women’s Engineering Society
As some of you may be aware I do not work in Engineering or even have any professional relationship with science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) disciplines – so why was I so interested in attending?
When I was a child I genuinely believed I could be anything; not even becoming disillusioned when I was told that being a mermaid was not a career choice.
Later my goals grew up with me and my hopes of becoming a mermaid changed to a marine biologist, that was until I realised that the Science/Maths side of my brain was not in on my plan and I discovered my talents lay elsewhere.
On finding out that I was much better at Art, Drama, English and Politics my careers advisor acted as though the left side of my brain did not function well enough to even consider taking technology or computing, which I was actually OK at, and more importantly, really enjoyed. Instead she encouraged me to stick with what I already knew rather than take a risk on a potential passion. It seemed that the advice that was being dished out was to progress a child’s strongest talents rather than nurture any sparks of interest.
At this point I was not overly aware that I was following a gender stereotypical route but sadly as I got older it was hard to miss the gender divide in certain subjects: Home Economics was for girls, Psychics and Technology was for boys and unless you were willing to prove why you challenged such stereotypes (and excelled at it) you became a target for your peers.
From my school experience there are enough accidental social taboos that make you a target for ridicule without choosing to offer yourself up as one. Unfortunately these statistic are not only shown within the walls of my High-school but is a much larger issue.
The PISA report, The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence showed that;
“5% of 15-year-old girls in OECD countries contemplate pursuing a career in engineering or computing, while 20% of boys do. What accounts for this gender difference in career expectations? PISA finds that girls – even high-achieving girls – have less confidence in their abilities in mathematics and science, and are more anxious towards mathematics, than boys. “*
I think this lack of confidence comes from an element of the unknown within the STEM industry; subjects like maths and science were explained to me as topics that would be useful without any examples of how these obscure numbers and equations on a page transcended into the real world.
It is thought that girls tend to do better in exams due to the fact that they look at education as an organised process. If this is true and girls see their education as a methodical step towards the future then they would naturally be put off by subjects that they could not visualise a logical progression in.
I am passionate in supporting other women who excel against the odds as I wish I had a wider range of role models when I was growing up. I am ashamed to say that before I started working for a charity where I source lots of engineering jobs roles, the industry conjured up images of men in boiler suits. Being more informed about the breadth of opportunities available has completely changed my outlook on the industry. Not only has my view on what engineering is has changed but also the industry itself is developing in many new directions, opening up a wider range of possibilities for both males and females.
A thought also expressed by Panel member Dawn Bonfield who commented that
‘This is the exciting part of engineering, especially for girls. The future for engineering is in fields like artificial intelligence, robotics, sustainable energy, food supply.
For these kinds of huge global challenges we’ll need engineers who aren’t just good at solving technical problems but who can communicate to the public and understand the ethics behind the problems, it’s the dawn of an age where EQ – emotional intelligence, the kind that girls often have in spadesful – is just as important as IQ.”**
With only 6% of positions within Engineering currently being held by women*** I think it is important to celebrate their achievements not only to break down gender stereotypes and give people a wider range of positive role models but also because I believe that bringing together women and men from all different backgrounds who have unique viewpoints is critical for innovation.
Has there been a time where you have felt like your gender has hindered your career or educational choices?