Sunday 23 June will mark 2019’s International Women in Engineering Day (#INWED19), when participants will be encouraged to show the world how they are ‘transforming the future’ in pursuit of more diversity in engineering. This global awareness campaign, coordinated by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), aims to increase the profile of women in engineering worldwide and focus attention on the amazing career opportunities available to girls and women in engineering and related industries.
This year, INWED will aim to inspire even greater participation across the globe, both online and through physical activities, by individuals, schools, colleges, groups and organisations. The theme will be supported by the hashtags #INWED19 and #TransformTheFuture.
Dawn Childs, president of WES, says of INWED19: “There are still far too few women who even understand what engineering is, let alone choose to become an engineer. International Women in Engineering Day is therefore so important to raise the profile and awareness of the fabulous opportunities that a career in engineering can bring.
“This year it is more pertinent than ever because our theme is #TransformTheFuture and so many forms of engineering do exactly that. So not only do we want to transform the future for girls and women by encouraging them to start a career in engineering or supporting them to excel and thrive in their current engineering career, but we will of course also be transforming the future of so much more with the engineering that they will do. So please participate in events or initiatives with us for INWED and help us to #TransformTheFuture!’’
Amongst the many organisations that will be marking INWED19 is NMiTE (New Model in Technology and Engineering). NMiTE is an initiative that takes gender diversity in engineering very seriously as part of its aims to transform engineering education in Britain. The initiative aims to become Britain’s first wholly new, purpose-built UK university in 40 years.
When Instrumentation Monthly visited NMiTE earlier this year, it was evident that broadening participation in engineering and creating gender diversity was key to the initiative. For example, NMiTE’s Design Cohort, a group comprising 25 young adults made of a 50/50 female/male split, actively seeks out ways to increase diversity in engineering. Indeed, NMiTE’s president and CEO, Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, is a champion for women in engineering. Rodriguez-Falcon joined NMiTE from the University of Sheffield, where, among many other roles, she had been the Faculty of Engineering’s director of Women in Engineering. Last year, speaking to The Guardian, she discussed how NMiTE aims to recruit equal numbers of men and women. Explaining how engineering may appeal to women, she said: “Women seem to want to choose what they perceive as a caring profession. Engineering is a caring profession. An engineer is nothing other than someone who solves the problems of the world.”
Sarah Hitt, full Professor in Engineering Education at NMiTE, further explains this notion of how engineering can be made more inclusive by changing perceptions of the field: “It’s often said that women like to work in caring roles, and I can’t think of anything more caring than being an engineer. The work that engineers do is so impactful on our everyday existence and there’s a feeling of great responsibility – by its very ethos being an engineer will be attractive to many women.
“At my previous university the students were 27 per cent female, however the programme that I led was 60 per cent female as it dealt more with the human and social side of the work. The students were good at maths and science but wanted to work with people – it’s important to highlight that this is a key part of engineering.”
Lindsey Day, partnership associate at NMiTE, adds: “Engineering is a career that is relevant to everybody, women and men. It is about a desire to solve problems, being creative and working collaboratively, things that women are naturally very good at, but we don’t often think of engineering as a career for women.
“The opportunities within engineering are endless! If you have an interest in a particular area, or if you just love solving problems, engineering can give you the opportunity to make a real contribution to the world we live in.”
Changing perceptions of what a career in engineering actually means could go a long way to addressing the gender imbalance in the sector. Hitt adds that her own understanding of what an engineer does has rapidly changed: “Engineering is interactive, it’s teamwork, it’s all about design. It is so much more dynamic and creative than I originally thought. When I first started, I would have laughed if I was told that you needed to be creative, but now I know that you have to be creative.”
NMiTE’s innovative approach to engineer training may be the step that is needed to encourage more girls and women to take it up as a career. As Rodriguez-Falcon says, ‘you won’t come here to study engineering; you’ll come here to be an engineer.’ Learner engineers will work collaboratively in groups of five, on real-world engineering challenges set by real-world organisations, mentored by real-world engineers. It is a unique curriculum model that will enable learners to gain an MEng in three years and will place learning-by-doing over lectures, and learning-by-results over exams.
The project’s ground-breaking teaching methods attracted Hitt to the future university: “I moved to the UK from the US to work for NMiTE because it is doing something so exciting and innovative. Among many other factors, one of the things that attracted me to NMiTE was the inclusion of the social and political context of engineering. This will help to draw women to the world of engineering, as they are passionate about the impact their work can have.
“NMiTE is committed to a 50/50 gender split, which was a huge draw for me.”
If you would like to find out more about NMiTE and how it aims to change engineering education, please visit https://nmite.ac.uk