Last month saw the second annual National Women in Engineering Day highlighting the opportunities available for women in engineering and promoting diversity and inclusion.
Many successful women in engineering today talk about an early experience that inspired or influenced them to take up the profession, often by accident or incidental to their traditional education. For me, it was my mother, a science teacher; strong, articulate and disdainful of all things too pretty or pink.
I was drawn to the diversity of civil engineering, the possibility of working outdoors, to travel far and wide and the potential to make the world a better place. I also quite fancied stomping around in a hard hat and boots.
Thanks to volunteers in the profession, schoolchildren of all genders, races and religions across the country have enjoyed learning from real-life engineers about potential careers in the field.
Last week, I too visited a local school, Ellingham First School, to try to help divert the attention and aspirations of pupils from fame, fortune and celebrity TV shows.
The pupils were warm and receptive and headteacher Diane Lakey described the class as ‘very excited and enthusiastic’.
We know the potential of girls, they outperform boys at GCSE in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM), but their performance and interest then wanes during higher and further education and the sector struggles to retain women.
I am working with the Institution of Civil Engineers through their equality and diversity panel (newly named FIR: Fairness Inclusivity and Respect) to break down industry barriers to entry and to retention faced by all minority groups.
With a global construction industry growth forecast of 70 per cent over the next decade, engineering should be seen by all members of society as a possible profession; not just to be fair, or equitable, or just, or to facilitate fulfilling and rewarding careers, but because to most effectively meet the needs of society today and in the future we need engineers representative and fully cognisant of that society.
I echo the inspiring letter from Naomi Climer, President-elect, IET, in the Gazette (25/6/15), who describes her career as ‘exciting, fast-moving and challenging’ and I call for teachers and engineers of the region to unite in perpetuating our great engineering heritage of the North East by inspiring the engineers of tomorrow to enter what is a growing and exciting industry.
Mrs Lakey said: “Engineers are vital to our economy and society. This was an engaging, practical and fun insight into their work. Hopefully it inspires some budding, future engineers.”