The 23rd of June celebrates International Women in Engineering Day 2018. This international event is held to celebrate the success of women engineers and more generally in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths careers and subjects. This celebration is held annually to attempt to redress the gender imbalance right across STEM subjects and careers.
Initiatives have been running across all sectors for quite a few years now to have more women represented in boardrooms, higher paid jobs and STEM subjects and careers but the statistics show there is still lots more to do.
The latest figures compiled by the WISE Campaign still show that in the UK Women are vastly underrepresented in may areas of STEM education. Graduates in core STEM subjects in 2017 showed that just 24% of the near 100,000 graduates were women. WISE Campaign also highlights that, whilst in some areas such as medicine, veterinary sciences, biological sciences women represent over half of graduates, in other areas, engineering and technology and computing sciences (14% and 15% respectively) numbers remain shamefully low.
In their academic career, despite outperforming boys at GCSE level STEM subjects, a huge drop off occurs at 16 with only 35% of those taking core STEM subjects being women. This trend continues into the makeup of the UK workforce.
Actual numbers of women STEM professionals are encouragingly rising – but at rates that are less than that of men and some in some areas of STEM careers women are hugely underrepresented such as Engineering – just 8% and ICT professionals – just 18%. These figures are surely embarrassingly low for the UK and the knock on effects for the economy and progression as we still do not tap into this pool of skill and talent is staggering.
Where the causes for this imbalance lie are both complex and many, and there is no way I could pretend to be an expert on such matters. However I have probably witnessed first hand some of the underlying factors that might lead to eroding the confidence of girls in STEM subjects.
In a way I am probably in a privileged position as we work predominantly with primary aged children, where the distinction between girls and boys – although still quite defined – is probably less significant than with older children. I’ve witnessed over a thousand children using and enjoying the engineering and science challenges and never once witnessed a difference in enthusiasm between boys and girls in engaging with Moti-Lab.
What I have witnessed though, is a subconscious bias that still remains pervasive. On no less than four occasions I have had (female) teachers feedback to me “the boys really enjoyed that” (or words to that effect) when there was no discernible difference in how boys and girls interacted with Moti-Lab – in fact sometimes the opposite was true.
On each occasion I challenged the teacher as “I saw the girls enjoying it just as much as the boys” and on each occasion it led to agreement – but the fact that it was mentioned at all rang alarm bells. I’m not interested in castigating individual teachers – who have probably gone through an education system that taught them “science was for boys” – but that this issue arose at all was a shock to me and certainly something I thought should be consigned to the past.
Hopefully with initiatives such as International Women in Engineering Day celebrating, providing role models and inspiration to all women this unconscious bias will itself be eroded forever and we can capitalise on the strength of each person for both the individual and common good.
With this in mind I’d like to share with you the stories of the two very different Women in Engineering we have on board here at Moti-Lab to provide inspiration for our future Engineers.