When I went to Bath University to read mechanical engineering in the early 90s I was one of very few girls on the course. In fact the statistics of the day demonstrated that females made up only 7% of the students reading engineering. I fully expected that this statistic would creep up over the course of my career but more than 20 years later the cover of the February 2014 edition of Professional Engineering has a massive 7% on the front and states ‘Damning statistic – Only seven in every one hundred engineers are women. How do we solve the gender imbalance?’
Is it that the prospect of a career in engineering simply isn’t appealing to girls? Or maybe the failing is earlier than that and the girls don’t select the vital STEM subjects at GCSE or A level and then are not able to go on to read engineering at university?
I truly believe that there is a fundamental lack of understanding of how wide ranging and interesting engineering can be – and importantly what great career prospects there are. More current day engineers need to reach out to school children and show them what engineering really means. Throughout my career I have tried to do this and have presented at career fairs and contributed to articles about engineering in career publications, but I really had a very small voice for such a big and urgent message.
Last year I was given an amazing platform from which to try and make a difference; I won the First Women Award in the Tourism and Leisure category. Not only was this an amazing experience, but it also led to numerous approaches from schools and universities trying to gain my support. I was thrilled to be able to assist in any way possible to get the message about the benefits of an engineering career out there. Most notably I was honoured to become an ambassador for Alton College and meet the students there on several occasions to try and answer their questions about engineering. They have recently opened an amazing new engineering facility, the Sonadyne Centre, which will no doubt encourage more students to give engineering serious consideration.
I also met Teachfirst, the amazing charity that places great student teachers into schools in deprived areas, and was really pleased to be able to offer to teach classes about what engineering means and to try and shift perceptions. To further increase interest in STEM subjects at schools local to Gatwick we have launched the ‘Big Picture’ competition and I cannot wait to see what brilliant entries we get!
I am sure that there are loads of inspirational women engineers out there who could be eligible for the First Women Awards and who might just use the opportunity, as I have, to try and get more girls interested in the fabulous world of engineering. So get nominating – entries close on the 4th April.
Dawn Elson was shortlisted for the 2013 First Women Awards.
For further information click here. This year’s awards ceremony will take place on Thursday 12 June and is hosted by Real Business in association with Lloyds Banking Group.
Author: Dawn Elson, Head of Engineering at Gatwick Airport Limited and First Women Awards 2013 nominee