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Diversity in STEM Q4 2021

Why we must celebrate our engineering heroes

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Elizabeth Donnelly

CEO, Women’s Engineering Society

Much has been made of the challenge that faces us in achieving gender equality across the engineering workforce. Role models play an invaluable role in helping inspire the next generation.

As reported in June 2021 by Engineering UK, women make up 14.5% of all engineers. This represents a 25.7% increase in women in engineering occupations (compared to a 4.6% in the overall workforce) since 2016. In addition, the number of women working in engineering occupations has risen from 721,586 in Q2 of 2016 to 906,785 in Q3 of 2020. This is showing positive progress in the sector, but how to we keep this growth trajectory going?

Raising the profile of role models 

A significant body of research points to the efficacy of female role models for inspiring women and girls at all levels to consider career pathways where they are in the minority. Therefore, much of our focus at Women’s Engineering Society is on raising the profile of these role models and giving them a platform to both recognise and share their achievements.

Our 2021 theme “Serving Society” shines a light on how women engineers have not just created ground-breaking solutions and innovations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but how they also deliver and maintain critical services and infrastructure in all aspects of society, every day.

If we want to increase the number of women choosing a career engineering, we must celebrate those who already have.

Celebrating inspiring women in engineering 

A key initiative to showcase role models is the WE50. Founded by the Women’s Engineering Society in 2016, the WE50 is a celebration of the top 50 women in UK engineering linked to International Women in Engineering Day (INWED).

An example of one of the 50 amazing female engineers to make the list is Dame Jo Da Silva, the Global Sustainable Development Leader at Arup who joined in 1989 as a graduate engineer. In 2011, she received an OBE in recognition of her contribution to her services to engineering and humanitarian relief.

The annual WES Lottie Tour is a campaign targeting our youngest potential engineers. Our Lottie dolls go round the country (and in some cases round the world) meeting amazing female role models working in engineering, showing the next generation that there is a tangible, accessible and appealing place for girls in the world of engineering when they grow up. 

If we want to increase the number of women choosing a career engineering, we must celebrate those who already have. We must find ways to connect females at all levels with what is possible. Seeing is believing.

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