On the 23rd of June (EU referendum day- we will come to that later) in an overcast London, I headed to the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) event ‘Towards Our Centenary’ held in the Institute of Engineering and Technology in the swanky West End. As I entered the foyer I found myself surrounded by important women (and a few men … also important and we will come to that later too). It was noticeable that most people were wearing the colour purple, which symbolises the society also which you may know is the colour of women’s suffrage. Compared to others I found myself slightly under-dressed for the occasion but in my defence I only arrived by train from Aberdeen two hours before. However, I was soon at ease chatting amongst fellow engineers.
The event started with a short address from the Chief Executive of the society, Dawn Bonfield. She gave an overview on what WES is striving to accomplish; inspiring and supporting girls and women to achieve their potential as engineers, applied scientists and technical leaders. To do this they aim to break down the stereotypes that are commonly associated with engineering, in academia and industry, and to show that engineers are not just mechanics, knee deep in oil and grease but involved in every aspect of life from bridges to biology.
Sarah Peers, WES Vice-President gave a brief overview of the history of WES, which started in 1919. I was surprised how long the importance of women in engineering has been recognised for. She also highlighted how much society’s perception has already changed during the last century, for example the time of marriage bars (and if you don’t know about this go and look it up). The National Women in Engineering Day (NWED) was set up 2014 and has done a good job in spreading awareness. Awareness was clearly high on Thursday because for a period we were trending 4th worldwide on Twitter. However we were beaten to the top spot by three EU referendum related trends including ‘dogs at polling stations’!
Benita Mehra, the President was very engaging and outlined the goals that WES would like to be achieved in the next 100 years. One of which is to encourage younger children into STEM. Another is to highlight more female and male role models within industry. Yet another is to campaign towards increasing the percentage of female engineers to 30% by 2030. I was shocked to discover that the current percentage is only 10% and furthermore the percentage reduces to 2% when in senior positions. Benita stressed the importance of getting all engineers involved in this goal (hence the importance of involving men in events such as these to boost their passion for such issues). Speaker, Elsa Ekevall, gave an example of one of the new programs that WES has set up to help change these perceptions. The Spraxx program is aimed at 12-18 aged girls and their parents to educate them on the opportunities that a career in engineering can provide.
Finally, If you looking for a bit of inspiration I can suggest you take a look at the Top 50 Influential Women in Engineering List 2016 on the WES website (http://www.wes.org.uk/we50) . The women represent a broad range of role models including Muffy Calder from our very own University of Glasgow.
Engineering Convenor, WiSTEM