Following on from International Women in Engineering Day (23rd June), it feels only right to talk about some of the great things we do to support women in engineering, and some of the fabulous females we get to work with. We all know that we need more females in STEM and we’re here to try and make that happen through female only courses and looking to role models for inspiration and support.
Speaking of fabulous females, a group of them spent a few days at the University of Warwick this week, attending a Humanitarian Engineering course for females in Year 10/11. The course was sponsored by the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 and developed in conjunction with the School of Engineering, University of Warwick. The course looked at some of the critical areas in which engineering can play a part in improving people’s lives.
The students learned about combating earthquakes, using robots to save lives in disasters, developing sustainable cities and tackling global health issues. Working and listening together, the girls learned the necessary building blocks and knowledge that is needed to be able to develop complex solutions in difficult situations and to see how engineering links to economic, social and medical sciences.
Listening to leading researchers and academics about global challenges and how to manage disaster response, remote energy needs, clean water, health, mapping and logistics. These girls really are going to be the ones to turn to when disaster strikes.
Another source of motivation this month has been the inspiring Helen Jenkins from National Grid. Helen began her engineering journey following a Smallpeice Trust work experience week back in 2011 and later becoming an Arkwright Scholar. She heard of the Smallpeice course through a National Grid employee and decided to apply for the free course. She admits she only applied for the course as she thought it would be more interesting to her than working in a shop! She was right!
On the course, held at National Grid’s own training centre, the students learned everything they could about gas and electricity over the space of a busy and exciting few days. They visited a power station and listened to presentations about the future of energy and electricity. It was this that made Helen decide to learn more and decide that this would also be her future.
Sharing her story in Womanthology, Helen tells how she started a two year training scheme called the Engineer Training Programme with National Grid, after completing her A Levels. As part of her role, she attended Aston University to study for a Power Systems Management Foundation Degree, sponsored by National Grid.
“It’s amazing really. You might think being a woman going into engineering that you will be treated differently and people will look at you in funny way. That’s what I got when I was at school and I told my friends I wanted to be an engineer! But as soon as I got into the workplace, there was nothing at all.
My main piece of advice to girls would be: Don’t think that you can’t do it because it is sometimes seen as a ‘male’ career, because it’s not.“ Great advice Helen!
A report by The Institute of Physics (IoP) stated that in 2016, only 1.9% of girls chose to study Physics at A-Level, a small increase from 1.6% in 2011. This, compared to 6.5% of boys studying Physics, is quite scary. The report also states that 44% of schools do not send any girls at all to study the subject, that’s almost half the schools in the UK, they send none at all! For those students that do study A-Level Physics, the gender balance students is around 80/20. With the 20% being female.
There are various reasons that females don’t go on to study Physics A-level and it is often due to stereotypes and beliefs shared by a small group of people. It’s sometimes assumed that girls aren’t very good at maths and physics (wrong) and that physics and engineering are subjects and careers intended only for males (also not true). At a young age it’s easy to feel pressures from peers and the world around you. For this and other reasons, we at The Smallpeice Trust run a Girls only Physics course at Royal Holloway, University of London. That way, young females can attend a course with like-minded young women to discover physics in our everyday life and how it shapes the world around us.
Professor Dame Julia Higgins DBE FRS FREng, President, Institute of Physics says:
“Addressing the gender gap in A-level physics and in the sciences as a whole will help to ensure that we have a highly skilled workforce for the future.
But, more importantly, generations of innovative, talented and brilliant girls are being led to believe they can’t be engineers, scientists, programmers or technicians.
Removing the barriers to girls studying physics does not just address the skills need; it also makes our society fairer and our science communities more rich and diverse.”