Currently only 11% of the UK engineering workforce is female1 ; the lowest percentage in the whole of Europe. This International Women in Engineering Day’s theme is Raising the Bar, and how we can help to make the change.
In my opinion, we can only encourage younger females to be enthused about engineering earlier on to adopt it as a career in later life. We at Dukosi are committed to ensuring that this percentage increases in the future and hope to provide an encouraging and stimulating work environment for all our employees so that they still feel excited about working in their engineering field.
It is this excitement that we need to instil. Younger girls need to see women that they can relate to in all areas of their life, including schooling, advertising, and mainstream media. Exposing younger, more impressionable audiences that a career in STEM is achievable exciting and cool will only be a benefit to the future of engineering.
Two of my colleagues, Shilpa (Software Engineer) and Josh (Mechanical Engineer) agreed that exposure to engineering for young girls doesn’t start early enough.
Shilpa said, “there is social stereotyping that only certain roles are suitable for women to make a career… there should be more events to encourage children to meet people, especially women, to show science & engineering in a fun way. I know little minds will surely be inspired!“, with Josh adding “if we can show younger girls and boys how school projects relate to the real world, it shows them how they can influence the real world”
According to a 2003 research presentation2 “multiple studies have shown that many girls do indeed hold a “masculine image of science” and tend to think most engineers and scientists are male”. It is quite certain that the media can positively influence young girls, the same presentation states that “the mass media become important sources of information about both current and future roles during the adolescent years”.
Joel (CTO) stated that “the media is very important in influencing young girls in regard to STEM roles; those who may have zero exposure otherwise will get all their information from the media and we may be losing potential future engineers this way”.
Our Electrochemist, Euan pointed out “the recent viral video clip of a little girl’s reaction to the news that the new Doctor Who is a girl is a perfect example of the influence of media on young minds and the need for relatable role models”. He further discussed the need for diversity across STEM subject and the need for knowledgeable presenters who can engage with guests; for instance Carol Vorderman does a lot of public outreach work and gave such a positive face to mathematics in the face of adversity when she started on Countdown.
According Jocelyn Steinke’s presentation the most common themes of women in STEM portrayed in the media fall into the following:
- Expertise of Women Engineers & Scientists
- Emphasizing the Appearance of Women Engineers & Scientists
- Stressing the Conflicts of Balancing Professional and Personal Lives
- Conflicts with Romantic Relationships
- Conflicts with Family/Childcare Responsibilities
- Focusing on the Lack of Ability and Skills
- Showing Women Engineers and Scientists as Distractions.
These themes can be discouraging to younger viewers, giving the impression that women cannot have satisfaction in both their personal and work lives and that women are restricted.
To counteract this, I picked a few choice films that prove otherwise and who are helping in #RaisingTheBar in the portrayal of women in engineering.
The 2016 book and film, Hidden Figures, touched on some of the stereotypes faced by women in STEM careers and how their characters fought against the grain. The book and film feature the black NASA “computers”, highly intelligent mathematicians who helped NASA during the Space Race era, who just so happened to be black and female. A refreshing, uplifting look at women in the workplace especially during a time when being a black woman in America meant you were not given the same rights as others.
A recent documentary, Dream Big, equally highlights women and male engineers and their work. It showcases how engineering really does impact each and every one of us. It is a bright, happy, engaging documentary clearly focussed on capturing the imagination and encouraging younger audiences into the world of engineering, proving that it isn’t a pursuit for just males, or just brainboxes – it’s for creatives, those who question everything and those who like to find different answers to the same question.
The biggest, most recent example, for me, of how a mainstream film can help influence was the character of Shuri in Black Panther. A young, intelligent, woman of colour who was confident in her abilities and excited by her work, who without her, her brother T’Challa (aka Black Panther) would not have been as successful as he was.
The success of Black Panther should mean that many younger girls got to watch it and perhaps the character of Shuri planted a seed in their mind that will grow and develop into a potential career path. As with all the Marvel films, Shuri will crop up in Black Panther sequels and Avenger films. I, for one, am excited to see the development of her character and really hope that the filmmakers do her character justice!
Shuri is the epitome of #RaisingTheBar this INWED2018.
1.Statistics from International Women in Engineering
2.‘Media Images of Women Engineers and Scientists and Adolescent Girls’ Conceptions of Future Roles’ by Jocelyn Steinke. July 2003.