A school boy studying for GCSEs

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Reactions to President’s quota idea

I was alarmed to read in the November 2015 issue of E&T that incoming IET President Naomi Climer has suggested engineering employers should consider introducing a range of measures including quotas to boost the number of female engineers.

Please, please don’t! Such quotas would be insulting and demeaning to women. How can we hold our heads up at work if we are employed and retained because our company needs to fulfil a quota?

When people ask me what my job is I state “I am an engineer and I do…”. If quotas are brought in, how will I be able to say that with the same confidence? I won’t, because at the back of my mind will be the thought, “My company may only have employed/retained me because they require me to enable them to meet a quota”.

Engineering should be promoted to young people as an interesting and fulfilling job equal in ‘status’ to accountants, lawyers. It should be promoted without bias, with case studies and pictures showing men and women of all races and colours, but the emphasis should be on engineering, not on gender, race etc. This will bring in all, both male and female of all races, who are interested in engineering. However please don’t expect equal numbers of women and men; we are different after all!

Grace Munday
High Wycombe

I am a second-year student studying computer science and electronic engineering at a major UK university. In my first year, there were very few women on the course, maybe five in a class of around 80. That number has increased this year, due to an exchange programme with a university from China that has more than tripled the class size to approximately 260 students (although that is a complaint for another day).

In a recent lecture we were shown one of the main images used in testing image-processing operations, a section from a 1972 Playboy centrefold of model Lena Söderberg. This, along with the lecturer’s unnecessary comment that “she doesn’t look the same nowadays,” has reinforced my idea that these fields are still very much boys’ clubs.

We are desperately trying to get more women into engineering and technology and yet we expect them to put up with things like this. Playboy magazine has no place in the workplace, let alone in education; it makes women feel alienated and is utterly inappropriate.

I suggest that in addition to quotas and encouraging young girls to be interested in these subjects, we should look into blatant sexism within the industry. Even when women are taking degree-level courses, it is not a guarantee they will take jobs in the field. Things like this are one of the main reasons why.

Katherine Keene
Port Sunlight, Wirral

The notion of quotas, in whatever area, hands ammunition to the biased and opens us all to the criticisms that “the only reason she got there was because of her gender”. or “he was black”.

Whatever its failings, the strength of the IET has been and should be that members are admitted or made seniors by merit, based on intellectual prowess. If anyone is good enough to reach senior positions and wishes to do so, then we must all accept and encourage that. Conversely, the majority either do not want to be, or are not capable of being, the top person in an organisation or senior in a profession.

True equality accepts that we are all different, with different goals in life and different personalities, whilst accepting equality based on merit. By all means promote, encourage, change attitudes to encourage more people into our Institution, but accept that many do not wish (alas) to be engineers.


The lack of women in engineering is not a new issue. I heard and read about it some 40 years ago when I moved to the UK from India with my wife, a scientist. We have two daughters who were born and brought up in London, one is a doctor, a consultant in NHS, the other a consultant with Accenture. They have come up without any quota system, though it has not been easy in an environment where sex equality is yet to be achieved.

In India, even in the 21st century female foetuses are either aborted or destroyed because they are considered a liability. Yet according to a report in The Times last year, the Indian Space Research Organisation alone employs around 1650 female engineers who constitute 12 per cent of its workforce.

In India, the different treatment of boys and girls from birth is conspicuous and is worse than that in Britain, yet proportionately India has more female engineers compared to other countries in the world. Instead of a quota system, we should interview India’s female engineers to find out why they are motivated to become engineers.

The present ruling government of India is striving hard to remove all kinds of inherited quota systems. It faces stiff opposition from vested interests who want to preserve systems for their personal benefit, but to the detriment of the country’s development.

Sunil Kumar Pal CEng MIET

Evolution has given men and women different natural attributes. That is not to say that they cannot do certain jobs, but it does mean that some jobs will naturally be done better by different sexes because of the way their brains are wired. We should not therefore find it unacceptable that some jobs will have a preponderance of men and others of women.

Naomi Climer claims that mixed teams, whether, of race, gender or age, are naturally more creative and capable. Perhaps she will let us all know what facts she relies upon in making this claim, or is it a case of saying what she would like to think is true?

Ian Corke CEng MIET
By email

Female students should be made aware of the opportunities in engineering and the IET has actively supported that, but it really is in the genes and without those, students are doomed to failure.

Companies are interested in what a person can do for them, not the gender of the applicant. The female engineers encountered in my career had no difficulty finding employment and all were very capable, mostly stimulated by their father’s activities. However I believe that was because the dominant genes were there as well. In my personal case my father had no interest in engineering but I had an uncle and grandparent who were both engineers. I am sure many others in the profession have similar family pedigrees.

Peter Beadle CEng MIET
By email

It is simply not possible for an employer to meet any meaningful target from the existing pool of female engineers. I started my electronic engineering company in 1966 and since then have employed an average in excess of 65 engineers and technicians. We have never received an application from a female engineer until last year, when a female applicant got the job as a sales/application engineer.

The real problem here is not that companies will not employ female engineers, but the lack of encouraging PR, and an educational system that for several decades has been biased towards the arts rather than sciences. It is a national disgrace that this important area has been almost actively discouraged by the education system and the UK will suffer the consequences for many decades to come. Now, of course, there is a dire shortage of engineers, male or female.

Peter J Smith CEng MIET
By email

[We look at the evidence for this and other solutions to the gender disparity in engineering in ‘Do Quotas Work?’ in this month's issue of E&T]

Give the jobs to UK firms

The deployment of subsea cables between the UK and continental Europe is a good idea to safeguard electricity supply where surplus can flow in either direction (‘Does the UK need Norwegian hydropower’, October 2015). However, taking hydropower from Norway, when we could supply our own and actually generate more makes no sense.

Here is an ideal opportunity to increase manufacturing in the UK by using home-produced hydro turbines, and having the appropriate infrastructure installed by UK citizens. Over the last century we have lost our self-belief. We are innovative, but then hand it over to other countries to produce and reap the rewards. An example should be set with all infrastructure projects. UK products and citizens should be used as a first choice. Only if there is no alternative should foreign technology be used.

Robin Loxley CEng MIET
By email

DAB in the real world

I have to challenge Graham Knight’s view of DAB digital radio performance (Letters, November) in the real world. He rightly says that the test is in “what it sounds like, how much choice is available”; in remotest central Berkshire if fails on both counts. Believing the hype I bought a DAB radio soon after it was available, was disappointed, so purchased a second from a different manufacturer assuming the radio to be at fault. I continued with this delusion until I had, and still have, four radios of differing brands.

So how do they fail? Sound quality is fraught with burbling in the background and hiss accompanying louder passages. Autoscan promises a huge choice of channels, but most produce a ‘not available’ message. My FM radios, none less than ten years old, outperform DAB in every way.

A fellow engineer more familiar with broadcast radio dismissed my query with the comment that it was %*&#@ technology selected by politicians!

Edgar Valentine CEng MIET
Beenham, Berkshire

Ahead of its time

Dr Bryan Hart (Letters, November) raises an interesting question about inventions that looked promising but never ended up in commercial use. One of the early electronic devices in this category was probably Julius Edgar Lilienfeld’s field effect transistor (US patent 1745175, issued on 28 January 1930). Twenty years later, Bell Labs were unable to reproduce Lilienfeld’s work and turned their attention to germanium.

There may well have been at least two reasons why the Lilienfeld device did not come to anything: one economic and one technical. The US economy was not in a good state in the early 1930s, and finding capital to take an invention from a demonstrator to quantity manufacture would have been difficult. The other reason probably relates to the imprecision of his description of how to produce the “compound of copper and sulphur” referred to in the patent.

We now know that semiconductor behaviour is critically dependent on having the right concentrations of impurities in the material, and the process of manufacturing some of the sulphur-containing compounds he mentions might well have been difficult to reproduce consistently. One wonders how history might have changed if this problem had been solved.

EurIng John Rabson CEng MIET
By email

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