I read in The Guardian this week that just 9% of the engineering workforce and 6% of registered engineers and technicians in the UK are female. That is the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe.
During the First World War more than a million women joined the workforce in Britain. They did everything from driving trams and cleaning trains to delivering mail and joining police patrols. Twelve hour shifts were commonplace and some women worked 13 days without a break. It was a hard life but many women saw paid employment as route to independence and an endorsement of their place in society.
When the troops returned, many women found themselves surplus to requirements. The 1919 Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act forced most women to leave their jobs. Despite their pioneering contribution, thousands were dismissed, particularly in engineering. These newly unemployed, but undeniably ambitious, women were pressured into becoming domestic servants or return to the business of running the home.
The Women’s Engineering Society was set up in 1919 to support women who wanted to continue their vocations. Since then it has worked tirelessly to ensure equality for women in this sector. It supports women to achieve their potential as engineers; to encourage and promote the education, study and application of engineering and to work with organisations to promote gender diversity and equality in the workplace.
We have a strong record of STEM uptake at BHHS – this year 61% of our A Level students are taking one or more STEM subjects. This exceeds the national average for girls, but there is still a job to be done in encouraging both girls and boys to look at engineering as a career. We are supported in this by being part of many Girls’ Day School Trust STEM initiatives nationally – we won the GDST 3D Design Challenge this year, for example – and we regularly encourage girls to apply for Arkwright Scholarships ( Alanah O’Rourke gained one this year) and other engineering competitions and internships. Our recent STEM Family Challenge was a great success.
National Women in Engineering Day in on 23rd June 2106. Have a look at their website.
Have a good weekend; BHHS will be taking part in both the Children’s Parade on Saturday and the Stonewall Equality Walk on Sunday. Do come and say hello.