The Ada Lovelace Discussion on 10 December is titled ‘Are there sufficient women in non-traditional roles/careers today If not, why not?’
I’m mostly familiar with my field of STEM and engineering and based on current statistics, the answer to the first question seems to be no. The latest figures (August 2015) for the UK suggest that women make up 14.4% of all people working in STEM occupations and 8.2% working as engineering professionals.
So why aren’t there more women? My recent 6 week secondment with WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) has helped me with this question. Even though girls continue to do out perform boys at GCSE/A-level STEM subject, many areas of research suggest that some girls still don’t see non traditional STEM careers or engineering for people like them and many aren’t progressing with the subject options, such as physics, that are required for the engineering profession. Although it’s about 50:50 at GCSE level for boy and girls doing physics, at A-level it approximately 80:20 and therefore this has a knock on effect in the work force.
Work force figures are also affected, not only by the limited number of women entering the profession, but also by retention issues whereby women leave the profession because of lack of progression/training due to the culture of some companies.
I believe that one of the actions we can do to increase the numbers in the workforce is to try and encourage girls, both at primary and secondary level, to see engineering as a career for them. As a STEM Ambassador I go into primary schools and show students (both boys and girls) what civil engineers do, the varied nature of engineering and the positive impact engineers have on shaping the society.
Working with organisations such as SATRO also helps in encouraging girls into engineering. The company I work for was recently involved in a SATRO programme where an A-level student was given the opportunity to undertake research based on an actual project. CGL provided the student a brief based on one of our major brownfield sites in London and during the 2 weeks with the company she gained an understanding of what ground engineering (both geotechnical and geoenvironmental aspects) is all about. I supervised this work placement and it was very encouraging to see the enthusiasm she had for engineering and she helped to show me that with the right encouragement more girls could be driven to consider a career in engineering.