It’s vitally important that young female engineers engage not just in National Women in Engineering Day, but in any activity that helps inspire girls into engineering and technology careers, says EDT’s Estelle Rowe.
June 23rd is National Women in Engineering Day (NWED), a brilliant initiative introduced by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) to celebrate women engineers and inspire new generations of girls into engineering as a career. The idea has really caught on and hundreds of events are being held by forward-looking engineering companies across the UK to celebrate the day and to try to shift the momentum of women into engineering from a trickle into a flood. To find out what is going on, visit www.nwed.org.uk.
If however, you are a woman engineer, particularly one in her early career, I want to do more than simply make you aware of this day. I want to convince you that it is vitally important that you engage personally, not just in National Women in Engineering Day, but in every sort of activity which helps inspire girls into engineering and technology careers.
“That’s not for me”
The best research into why girls don’t see themselves in engineering careers suggests that it is cultural factors that apply. If the girls don’t have an engineer in their family or among close family friends, then they and their family will have no clear idea what engineering involves or what a career in engineering can achieve.
This ignorance and associated false stereotypes are self-reinforcing and girls assume a “that’s not for me” attitude without even knowing what it is they are rejecting.
What we need is a change in culture and that can only be achieved by practically engaging girls, and ideally their families, with engineering achievements and challenges and exposing the incorrect “That’s not for me” assumptions they are making.
This is where early career women engineers come in, because experience and research both suggest that the best way of turning these mistaken attitudes around is for girls to actually meet role models in engineering before they are committed to other career paths.
Don’t think of yourself as a role model? Well, if you love your engineering or technology job you’re already halfway there. If you love what you do, then you will love telling others what it’s all about and that is just what NWED and many of the activities that we manage in my organisation, EDT, are designed to allow you to do.
EDT runs programmes with engineering and technology employers and schools to inspire students into STEM careers through programmes like Go4SET and the Engineering Education Scheme (EES), both of which attract a good proportion of girls.
EDT is also encouraging female engineers to become role models through our #FERM campaign, where each month we nominate a Female Engineer Role Model (FERM) with a blog on our website and spreading the word through social media.
In recent years EDT has reinforced its focus on specifically encouraging women into STEM professions. As part of this focus we have innovated in three areas to supplement our core programmes. Firstly recognising the key effect that parental attitudes have on the career routes of their children, we have started working with schools to deliver the STEM Family Challenge which is designed to encourage parent involvement in STEM choices and to inform and highlight to them the benefits of STEM careers. Secondly, we have initiated female-only programmes where we teach soft skills, such as personal organisation, research and revision techniques, presentation and project management skills to girls wanting to embark on STEM careers.
Finally we have initiated a programme called Routes into STEM, which is designed to supplement the careers advice available to students relatively early in their school careers. While this activity is for both boys and girls, it is particularly helpful in allowing girls to understand their options in science and engineering careers.
A good career move
Getting involved in core programmes or these specialist programmes will not only help your profession but it is also good for your CV – many early career engineers find working on EDT programmes contributes to their application for Chartered Engineer status and gets them noticed by senior management. It also enables you to practise those communication skills that make you stand out from the crowd. As one chief executive said, “If you can communicate with a group of thirteen-year-olds, a Board presentation is simple!”
So, see if you can get involved in NWED this week, but also find out if your own company works with schools through EDT or other organisations and get involved. If your company is not active in this way, see if they can be encouraged to be so, or if this isn’t possible see if there are ways you can get involved in programmes on a personal basis.
To find out more about how you can engage with these initiatives visit www.etrust.org.uk.