2023 marks the tenth anniversary of International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) – a global initiative celebrated on June 23rd each year to raise awareness about the accomplishments, contributions, and challenges women face in engineering.
INWED represents not only an opportunity to recognise the past achievements of women in engineering but also a call to action to address the gender gap and foster an inclusive and diverse future for the engineering industry.
The call to action is still as necessary as it was ten years ago, with gender gap figures finding that, in the UK, only 16.5% of engineers are women. As Hugh Scantlebury, CEO and Founder of Aqilla, states, “Diversity in engineering is crucial in ensuring that technology, infrastructure, and software represent and meet the needs of all future users.”
Therefore, there is no reason to prevent women from working in the engineering industry, and work still needs to be done to break down pre-existing equality issues.
The lack of women in the engineering workforce can be traced back to experiences in schooling. Stereotypes and preconceived ideas can prevent women from learning more about and pursuing a career in science, engineering, technology and maths (STEM). As Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA, Skillsoft, states: “Rebalancing the gender divide begins long before women enter the workforce. How engineering and other STEM subjects are taught in schools is a major factor in cultivating an interest in the subject for girls and young women.”
To combat outdated schooling methods and previous perceptions, Agata also believes that ‘the focus should be on finding new ways to keep girls engaged in STEM subjects throughout their academic career – for example, by developing websites, learning to code, or using robotic toys – providing adequate opportunities for them to hone their skills as well as their passion’.
Similarly, Caroline Seymour, VP of Product Marketing, Zerto, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, notes, “We need to do far more at an earlier stage. Mentoring girls and encouraging them to pursue STEM coursework in higher education is a start. Opportunities such as classes and scholarships that cater to girls interested in the field are also important. It’s vital to support young women early in life so they have the background, support, and confidence to overcome gender biases in STEM.”
While preventing gender bias issues in the education system is hugely important, it is also crucial for businesses to support women in engineering. For example, Wendy Zveglic, VP of Engineering at Fluent Commerce, argues that the issues begin before obtaining a role: “Often, the obstacles begin with the recruitment process itself. Women are often socialised to hold themselves back, doubting their abilities when confronted with requirements or job descriptions.”
Dr Shirley Knowles, Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer at Progress believes that “organisations need to introduce initiatives that will have a real impact. These should include those designed to increase the number of women coming into the industry by supporting STEM education.” For example, Progress launched a “Women in STEM scholarship series, beginning in 2019 with the founding of the “Progress Mary Székely Scholarship for Women in STEM” in the US.”
She also notes the importance of continuing to offer support to women once they enter the sector. For example, ‘offering flexible working to support a better work-family balance, providing mentor schemes and building a supportive environment in which mutual listening and learning are promoted are key ways to combat’ these issues.
By embracing diversity, the engineering industry can gain access to a broader range of perspectives, experiences, and ideas and is, therefore, able to empower innovation. For example, Lani Leuthvilay, Head of Product Marketing at PlainID, states that “when team members share similar backgrounds and exhibit similar patterns of thinking, they may not be able to identify solutions quickly nor find a compelling way to communicate its relevance to people who may benefit from the solutions.
“That’s why it’s so important to encourage women from diverse backgrounds to study STEM subjects from a young age to provide a variety of perspectives that foster creative solutions and attract a wide range of clients.”
To further improve the number of women in the engineering industry and empower innovation, it is important to access and support every aspect of an individual’s journey. As Lindsay Gallard, Chief People Officer, Six Degrees, states, “We do this at every stage of the journey; helping school-age children to understand what their career opportunities could be; enabling women to manage their priorities and wellbeing inside and outside of work; or propelling them along the many career paths in this sector.”
By encouraging the inclusion of women, INWED empowers female engineers to contribute their unique perspectives and talents, fostering a culture of innovation and progress within the profession.
Building a Brighter Future
Over the last decade, Women in Engineering Day has sought to achieve equality in the industry with little significant change. Looking to the future to achieve gender equality in engineering, it is essential to address the systemic barriers and biases that persist in the industry.
Mini Biswas, Specialist Team Unit – Operations Lead at Node4, argues that “despite its best intentions, Women in Engineering Day and similar initiatives will not change the situation overnight. However, it does raise awareness and give a voice to those who may be fighting to be heard. We will only see real progress once they are listened to, and organisations take action to put equality measures in place.
“It will be these voices that bring a different way of thinking and spark innovation within the industry as well as the overarching world. We need to be championing them and supporting those who are different, not just for Women in Engineering Day, but every day.”
Similarly, Razan Doleh, Senior Software Development Engineer in Test Lead at Cubic Transportation Systems, also states, “It’s crucial to acknowledge that fostering equality is a mutual responsibility. Organisations must actively provide women with professional development opportunities and enable them to expand their skill sets with emerging technologies. This benefits women personally and enhances the organisation’s overall productivity, creating invaluable assets for any company.”
Finally, the advice of female engineers is crucial to understanding how to combat equality and offers great insight for any prospective engineers. Liudmyla Suslova, Head of the QA Center of Excellence at Intellias, advises future female engineers: “Don’t let setbacks discourage you. Success often follows persistence. Additionally, practising and gaining hands-on experience is crucial, even if it means starting with small assignments or contributing to open-source projects.”