12/01/2021 | Spotlight
While it was the pharma sector that came to prominence during the pandemic, there were many instances when the role of the engineer was equally lauded, especially among those who “recognize a problem, then dare to be part of the solution”. Interestingly, that accolade was aimed not at the sector at large, but at the growing number of female members celebrated as heroes on International Women in Engineering Day, an awareness campaign dedicated to raising the as it is known, was launched in 2014 by the Women’s Engineering Society as a UK campaign, but UNESCO patronage to years later established on the international stage.
Other countries have similar. In fact, 1986 saw the founding of Deutscher Ingenieurinnebund, the German Association of Women Engineers, a non-profit organisation designed to bridge the gap between associations that included female graduates from a wide variety of disciplines and the engineering-focused groups that were largely male-dominated, lobbying on such things as equality legislation.
But it is Norway that has the best record in Europe. Fifty-five per cent of scientist and engineers there are female, overtaking Lithuania – an early adopter of the feminist movement – on 54 per cent. Denmark, where they compromised 30 per cent in 2008, has seen the biggest change, increasing to 52 per cent.
One company actively setting its sights in gender parity is Siemens. Latest figures from its core businesses show 43 per cent of those enrolled on its graduate programmes, and 36 per cent on its apprenticeship schemes, are female.
The company is now targeting 50-50 gender parity in Early Career recruitment by 2025 as part of its drive to build what it describes as an “innovative and diverse culture”. This pledge was made at INWED this year by Joanne Gogerly, Head of Siemens Professional Education for the UK and North West Europe. She said: “The digital revolution in industry offers an opportunity to build a better gender balance in engineering and technology companies. By improving the methods we use to attract more women to engineering roles such as more inclusive language in recruitment advertising and using more diverse recruitment platforms, and sharing more of the inspirational stories of women in the company to bust a few myths about modern engineering, Siemens can play its part on bridging this gender gap.”
For its current crop of young talent, the challenges caused by the pandemic have only strengthened their resolve and commitment to engineering and becoming STEM role models for the next generations. This is particularly important for those in the UK which lags behind other European countries in terms of female recruitment. One of the new intake is Field Technician Helen Brindley who completed her apprenticeship degree programme last year, following in the footsteps of her brother and godmother who are aeronautical and mechanical engineers respectively.
“I like to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty actually working on machinery and fixing it,” she explained, describing recent months as an eye-opening experience that “showed how important engineering is”. She added: “Plants can lose thousands of pounds an hour in shutdowns.”
Natalie Gristwood joined the graduate programme and is now an Industrial Security Engineer where she supports customers in assessing and improving cyber security. “I was always good at mathematics and physics, but I didn’t realise until I was in the Sixth Form and attended a careers fair that I wanted to pursue engineering,” she said. “Now there’s no looking back. I enjoy my work and I’ve had some interesting experiences, especially as there’s been at thrust in my work during the pandemic.”
Another making her mark is software engineer Olivia Kelly, a 26-year-old gaming and anime enthusiast who has been involved in a variety of hackathons including last year’s record-breaking ventilator challenge, in which her consortium achieve its target of producing 13,500 medical devices in just 12 weeks.
“These hackathons help reiterate that even though we would think the world is on fire, essentially, we could still do things and even be more creative,” said Olivia. “In addition to our day-to-day tasks we have been working on all these exciting projects that promote sustainability.”
IT Degree Apprentice Sian Court is also making a name, having scooped two awards early in her career with the company: RateMyApprenticeship’s 2019 Outstanding Degree Apprentice and Make UK’s 2020 Business Apprentice of the Year: Rising Star. “Success hasn’t come so easy”, she said. “I completed a year’s apprenticeship at a doctor’s surgery but couldn’t find a job so had to look for something else. By chance, I met a colleague from a work experience at Siemens’ Congleton factory who advised on the new intake for apprenticeships. I applied immediately and here I am and never looking back as I’m doing what I most enjoy.”
The company recently overhauled its work experience programme for those aged 14-19 with a virtual delivery platform to drive inclusive towards STEM.
Joanne Gogerly added: “Siemens has a long list of women engineers as role models for young girls who are looking to join the engineering field which has unlimited opportunities across many facets of technology including mechanical, IT, electrical, civil, bio medical, chemical etcetera.”
“According to figures from the Women’s Engineering Society, 12.37 per cent of all engineers are women in the UK and 21.8 per cent of women work in the engineering sector.”
And she went on to give this warning: “If we want these numbers to show an upward trend, a collective and integrated approach is needed to welcome young girls into STEM careers.”
Ashild Hanne Larsen, from the Norwegian energy company Equinor, outs the country’s success down to strong female role models in politics, academia and the private sector. She said: “Remember, if you can’t see it: you can’t be it.” She has previously noted that it has a strong record of quotas for women board members, and she is certain that this has helped to change the attitudes to gender balance. She told Tech Monitor: “The people who choose a career within IT are the ones who get to shape what products and services we will have access to in the future. And to make these solutions innovative and ensure they address different needs, the teams who design and develop them must also be diverse.”
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