13 June 2018

Yasmin Ali, a chartered engineer and member of the Women's Engineering Society (WES) Young Members' Board, on the need to champion diversity in engineering and the importance of this year's International Women in Engineering Day on 23rd June.

'Are robots engineering?' and 'Is space stuff engineering?' were just a few of the questions I was asked after giving a talk about engineering and my work in the energy industry at a girl’s secondary school in London. I am really glad I did this, and was very happy to answer the barrage of questions thrown at me; but the experience highlighted the lack of understanding of engineering and the careers it can lead to.

Over the last 10 years or so, I have spent a lot of time and energy engaging the public with engineering. I see it as my responsibility to inform the public, and allow young people to make educated career choices. It crushes my spirit when I meet retired female engineers who tell me they did the same, pouring their hearts and souls into increasing gender diversity in engineering, but made no difference.

The UK is struggling. Our engineering workforce is 11% female, compared with the national average of 45% across other professions. We rank worst in Europe, and we are worse than the USA. Something has to change.

Engineering is viewed as a cold, lonely, difficult profession. It does not appeal to those that value community and caring for others. When I talk about working in oil and gas, the reaction is almost always about the destruction of the environment. It is not often that my work in providing a commodity that we all rely on is valued. It is also not often acknowledged that engineers are playing a pivotal role in creating the technological solutions to our climate issues.

Being a nurse or a doctor is the ultimate caring profession. But it's medical engineers who facilitate that profession. Engineers manufacture the drugs the medical professionals administer, design and build the cameras and scanners they use to make their diagnoses, and write the software that is quietly running in the background.

The diverse and meaningful career options connected to engineering should be brought into the public eye!

International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) focuses the spotlight on engineering, and in particular the achievements of women in the industry. This international campaign, takes place every year on 23 June and is organised and managed by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES).

In 2017, some 150 separate events were registered with the INWED website, with some 18 events taking place in countries as far away as Brazil, Mauritius and Uganda. The INWED Resource Pack was downloaded over 900 times, and the official hashtag made over 1.2 million impressions on social media, trending continuously on the day, reaching the number two spot, beaten only by #bringyourdogtoworkday!

The theme this year, #RaisingTheBar, reflects the vision and aims of WES to both celebrate and make a step change to increase diversity in engineering and allied sectors/disciplines. Through wide-reaching engagement with individuals, organisations and educational institutions across the globe, it is hoped that the campaign will be even greater this year.

I, along with many colleagues and others, will continue to encourage engineers to pro-actively champion their profession, and employers to recognise and stress the importance of gender diversity and equality to the long-term sustainability of their businesses.

#INWED18 gives individuals and organisations an opportunity to share their engineering diversity success stories.  It is also an opportunity to create new global connections and learn from each other, and together we can make a difference to gender parity in engineering. 

For more information about International Women in Engineering Day, visit the #INWED18 website and make sure to follow INWED on social media and keep up to date with the official #INWED18 conversation. We hope you will take part and join us in celebrating the outstanding achievements of women engineers worldwide.

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