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This is a special edition of my blog to celebrate National Women in Engineering Day. I am extraordinarily proud to say that I am the founder of this day!
We set up this day in 2014 to celebrate the 95th anniversary of the Women's Engineering Society - the organisation which formed in 1919 to support women who wanted to remain in engineering at the end of the First World War. These pioneering women had come into their own during the war doing tasks that they had never previously imagined that they could do. The country spent an enormous £30million on their training, and they excelled in these new roles. But at the end of the war they were thanked but firmly sent back to the home. WES was the organisation that came into being to represent the interests of these women, and to campaign for change.
Today, WES still exists for the same reasons. Unbelievably the percentage of women in engineering has hardly risen since that time. Women still represent under 10% of the engineering workforce, and our efforts at changing this are stubbornly unsuccessful on the whole.
It is time to recognise that we need to do something different for girls. We have mounting evidence that girls respond to a different set of stimulii than boys. The girls that 'hear' the gender neutral campaigning that we have been doing so far fall into the category of 'stem devotee' and the number of these in any given group is approximately 10% (sound like a familiar figure?) What we need to do now is something that appeals to a different set of girls who do not respond to this gender neutral message - girls who feel that the message is 'not for people like me' to coin a phrase from Professor Averil Macdonald's work. We need to show that 'people like you' do work in engineering, and that 'people like you' are happy working there. And we need to get much better with our messaging about what engineering is all about. Let's move away from the outdated images of engineering as big toys for boys, and show instead some of the truly inspirational work that engineering is doing in solving the World's problems such as providing clean water supplies, finding solutions to look after an ageing population, the use of robotics and artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, affordable renewable energy, wearable technology, smart materials, climate change mitigation and many other of these world changing challenges that we face in the future that need diverse teams of engineers to work on.
National Women in Engineering Day is a great way of drawing attention to these challenges and lighting the spark for girls that will encourage them to consider engineering as a career for them.
WES has launched a new product for NWED in Sparxx - a mechanism to support girls along the path from the day that somebody lights the spark and puts the idea of engineering into their head (such as National Women in Engineering Day) through to the start of their enginering training (be it degree or apprenticeship)! Sparxx provides girls with what society provides to boys - a continual support mechanism that says 'yes, we are talking to you when we say that engineering is for you' . For more information on sparxx follow us on twitter @sparxxgirls or sign up for our communications at www.sparxx.org.uk.
If you haven't already got something planned for NWED then it's not too late - see the amazing resources on our dedicated site here www.nwed.org.uk, and start planning. If you miss the boat this year, then don't wait another year - there are lots of opportunites out there to encourage girls in engineering which can be used at any time of year. Do get involved and let's not wait any longer to turn engineering into a natural career choice for today's girls.
Dawn Bonfield firstname.lastname@example.org