Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) is trying to address the gender imbalance issue in engineering by holding workshops to encourage young girls to consider a career in the sector.
The ‘innovation workshops’ are designed for girls aged 10 years old and over and are delivered with Volvo’s strategic partner Swedish university, Mälardalen University (MDH).
Named Vera in honour of Sweden’s first female engineer Vera Sandberg, the workshops offer girls real-life challenges where they must find technical solutions using provided tools and materials.
Why the workshops are important
According to a shared statement, the aim is to inspire “young girls to recognise their abilities in science and technology.”
“Not only have the girls shown a stronger interest in these subjects as a result, but evidence shows that the long-term benefit of a better gender balance in engineering will result in more inclusive and innovative solutions for society’s complex problems,” it continued.
Supporters of the programme believe that by participating, female students “can better picture themselves succeeding in a career in science and engineering,” and “play an important role in one day effecting positive societal change.”
Workshop themes include “how to make traffic safer,” using technology to waste less food, and “how to make recycling more fun.” Sustainability is the “main focus” of the sessions.
The workshops are presented in the same way as they would be to boys and there is “no restriction on the gender of the mentors” to ensure everyone is involved in reversing stereotypes about women in engineering.
Every workshop concludes with presentations from Volvo CE engineers, university students, and professors where another aim is to “help school teachers rethink the way they present engineering as a career option for girls.”
Combating the tech and engineering fallout
The workshops are a response to a trend that sees girls lose interest in technology education at around ten years old. The research comes from Ulrika Sultan from Swedish university, Linköping University (LiU).
Sultan said: “In our study, we stress that at nine years old, girls can and do strive to be the best, but suddenly, just one school year later, they move from being excited to showcase their intellect and problem-solving skills to shying away from revealing their best.”
Initially, the workshops were held across 13 universities in Sweden and focused on older children. Since then, Mälardalen University “decided to build on Ulrika’s discovery of the importance of reaching girls at a much younger age and opened up the workshops to 10-year-olds.” The events are now online due to COVID-19.
Supporters of the Vera workshops hope that by intervening at this important age through mentorship and support, a more equitable gender balance in engineering could follow.
Anna Sannö, Research Strategy Manager at Volvo CE said: “At Volvo CE we were really encouraged by this idea that we could reach out to girls at a younger age and show them the potential for a career in engineering. We simply do not get enough female candidates applying for these sorts of technology roles within the company.
“It is not just a problem for us, it is a societal problem for us all because if we exclude 50% of the population of technology users from being technology creators, we will see a society only addressed for men by men. In this programme it has been incredibly rewarding to work like this with our potential future colleagues.”
Speaking about the workshops, she added: “We’ve discovered that the more open ended the challenge and the more recognisable it is to the world around them, the more engaged these girls become. In the first 15 minutes they are usually quite hesitant, but by the end they are more confident in their opinion and are even happy to present their findings in front of everyone.”