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BSRIA celebrates National Women in Engineering Day on Thursday 23rd JuneJune 2016

Julia Evans OBE, Chief Executive, BSRIA

BSRIA is celebrating National Women in Engineering Day (NWED) on Thursday 23rd June in an attempt to promote the subject to students in schools and universities and encourage more women into engineering. The day is dedicated to raising the profile and celebrating the achievements of female engineers.

Engineering continues to be a male-dominated profession so the third NWED is a great time to address the problem. Currently, less than 10 per cent of the engineering sector’s workforce is female and yet 64 per cent of UK engineering companies report that a shortage of engineers is threatening their business.

This untapped potential could help to fill the industry skills shortage apparent in UK engineering, as well as increasing gender diversity and inclusion. “Industry experts” predict that we need to double the number of UK students studying engineering degrees. But with just 15 per cent of our engineering and technology undergraduates female, “there’s work to be done”.

Remarkably, there is little gender difference in the take-up of and achievement in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) GCSE subjects.

Julia Evans, Chief Executive, BSRIA, said: “Employers are realising that ‘female friendly’ policies, such as flexible working, go a long way to help attract women. But we also need to change young women’s (and their parents’) mind-sets to realise that engineering offers a wide range of exciting opportunities and career development. Engineers and technicians touch every part of life.

By encouraging girls into engineering careers we will not only be increasing diversity and inclusion – a business imperative – but enabling us to fill the substantial future job opportunities that have been predicted in this sector.

BSRIA is very supportive of women going into engineering and proud to be employing many female engineers itself who are flourishing.

And history has shown that those who pursue science arguably make the biggest impact to the world; incredible minds provide us with incredible ideas we once might have thought of as unbelievable but are now ingrained in our society. Engineers help make the future a reality.”

What can we do to redress the balance?

The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s new president Naomi Climer (a female!) has called for quotas to redress the balance but educators and parents also have a role to play. Outreach work with schools and colleges spreads the word, with mentor schemes enabling young women to hear (and often see) first-hand how great a job in engineering can be.

Indeed, BSRIA’s INSPIRE project running throughout 2016 includes a series of events to inspire and engage the workforce of tomorrow with what the engineering industry has to offer. INSPIRE is based around the STEM subjects.

Dr Michelle Agha-Hossein, Sustainable Building Engineer, BSRIA

What made you study the science subjects at school?
I studied maths, physics, mechanics and chemistry because I knew – even then – that I wanted to be an engineer. I was always “very good” at maths so it seemed the “natural” thing to do. Therefore, I wanted to do a subject at university that involved maths.

Dr Michelle Agha-Hossein, Sustainable Building Consultant, BSRIA

And then at university?
I wanted to use my maths and I chose Civil Engineering (at the University of Surrey in Guildford) because it was a broad and all-encompassing subject. As such – the career options were broad. My interests in buildings and sustainability led me to undertake an Engineering Doctorate course at the University of Reading. My doctorate project was in post-occupancy evaluation of office buildings.

Does engineering run in your family?
My dad is an engineer. But he wanted me to study medicine and he wasn’t very supportive of my choice believing that engineering is not a suitable career for a girl. But I said to him: “I will prove it to you that I can be a successful engineer! And I did!”

Have you encountered any gender related problems?
I worked as a construction site engineer when I started my career and I was afraid that the workers wouldn’t listen to me or indeed take me seriously because of – not only my gender – but my age. But quite soon on – they ended up coming to me for advice! And it turned out to be an extremely nice experience. Their language was a bit candid – but one can adapt.

Do you think barriers still exist for women?

There is certainly the wrong public perception especially when most people think that engineering is just about fixing cars and the like! Which isn’t particularly nice for most girls.

We need to raise the profile of what engineering actually is: 10 per cent of the engineering workforce is women – so that is a huge problem.

A career in engineering is so far ranging and diverse. For example – as a civil engineer – you can work in an office or on-site. You can become, for example, a design engineer, a project cost manager, a business manager or a quantity surveyor. You need to be good at problem solving and you have to be able think “outside of the box” – and much more!

What brought you to BSRIA?
When I was completing my doctorate – I used the vast range of BSRIA technical guides and publications a lot! In doing so – I spotted my now job advertised on the website in 2014 and here I am. “Perfect.”

Is engineering exciting?
Yes! Very! One has to manage many projects at the same time (multi-tasking!) and time-manage. Again – problem solving on a daily basis – and decision making. In essence, engineering involves a lot of skills!

What message would you promote engineering to female students – at school?
To try to find out more about engineering – chemical; civil; mechanical, etc. My friend studied chemical engineering and has ended up working for L’ oreal and she loves it. Another university contemporary works for Coca-Cola. So – not necessarily a construction site or pair of dirty hands in site!

The message is clear: studying engineering means you never know where you’re going to end up! Act like a lady, think like an engineer!

National Women in Engineering Day was set up on 23rd June 2014 by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) to celebrate its 95th anniversary. Since 2014 the day has focused attention on the great opportunities for women in engineering, at a time when it has never been more important to address the engineering skills shortage.

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