Inspiring women as engineers

Semali Perera tells us about the National Women in Engineering Day (NWED), and how the University of Bath is promoting women as engineers

NWED took place on Tuesday 23 June and is an annually celebrated event dedicated to inspiring women as engineers, scientists and technical leaders; recognising and celebrating their achievements in society.

At the University of Bath, we celebrated NWED by hosting a day-long event on campus for over 80 local secondary school female students. It was an excellent day in which the students listened to the University’s female engineering students and staff, engaged in group discussions and took part in activities such as lipstick making and tower building that demonstrated engineering’s wide range of applications across chemical engineering to civil engineering.

In 2011, Engineering UK reported that the main reason for the low number of women in engineering is girls’ GCSE choices in school. As academics and engineers, it is important we work with schools and colleges to encourage students to select the appropriate subjects for an engineering career, enabling young people to make properly informed decisions.

In light of this it is important we continue to keep inspiring the next generation of female engineers and provide them with opportunities to make those informed decisions. Whilst the main purpose of NWED is to support women to achieve their potential as engineers and leaders, the day is also aimed at rewarding excellence, encouraging and promoting the study and application of engineering, and also promote gender diversity and equality in the workplace.

In the Faculty of Engineering & Design at Bath, the Women in Engineering group and Student Women’s Engineering Society (WESBath) provides our aspiring female engineers with information and support, and showcases the numerous achievements of our female staff, students and alumni. The two groups have developed a teachers’ toolkit to help get more female students interested in engineering and have also created webpages that contain profiles, news, funding information, employment opportunities, resources and events that may be of interest to female school pupils.

According to the WES 2014 statistics, the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe and 3.4 per cent of engineering and manufacturing apprentices are females. Even in occupations where women have a long history of access, they remain under-represented at the top; in Higher Education, women accounted for a quarter of full-time lecturers, but just ten per cent of females were Professors.

Engineers are in great demand across a variety of different fields from industry to academia. At Bath, we train our engineers in a range of hard and soft skills to make them highly employable with skills such as: problem solving, effective communication, team-working and leadership, project and time management, research and design.

Engineers play a key part in such a wide range of industries. We produce medicines, we build houses, we construct planes, and we develop equipment that is used in people’s everyday lives. As a chemical engineer I really enjoy working closely with industry and I believe that regardless of gender, if you have the ambition and drive you can create your own success in engineering.

For me, both teaching engineering and also being an engineer is very rewarding especially when you see your ideas, research and designs turn into products and processes

Semali Perera is a Professor of Chemical Engineering, Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Bath.

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