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Better engagement will inspire girls in STEM subjects Katherine Jackson

STEM graduates in the UK are in short supply. It’s time we recognised the potential of girls and provided further encouragement for them to pursue careers in engineering.

Women currently account for only 13% of employees in STEM subjects, so there’s plenty of room for girls to get involved and increase that percentage.

It is an opportunity to work in a challenging and fun career in which they can really make a difference; an opportunity to travel, contribute to society, carry out some of the world’s top scientific research and earn a good wage. However, girls’ logical and analytical skills are often too little nurtured.

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics network (STEMnet) is seeking to address this by working with schools, colleges and employers, including Mott MacDonald, to introduce young people to inspiring role models, teach them about real world applications of STEM subjects and help them experience the subjects through hands-on activities.

STEMnet is just one of many organisations that focus on introducing women to STEM subjects. Mott MacDonald is doing its part to redress the gender balance and support staff who participate in activities to encourage girls into this career path – such as when I contributed to the Women into Science and Engineering (WISE) blog, or when I took part in a TV debate for National Women in Engineering Day.

Spread the word

Parents, teachers and careers advisors must play their part in removing unconscious bias and stereotypes from the process of choosing a career. Having the information available to make informed study and career choices is vital. We need to try and exploit the new media available to deliver interesting and inspirational material, and to make it clear that engineering is not a “boys’ club”.

This needs to be pushed by the industry as a whole, with the support of major industry players. I was part of a joint promotion at this year’s Big Bang Fair in Birmingham, in which an Institution of Civil Engineers stand was supported by major companies including Mott MacDonald. It was refreshing to see so much support from these companies, really working together to showcase the interesting and varied careers of civil engineers.

Female role models

Promoting female role models is key to increasing awareness of opportunities for women in engineering. In a 2011 poll by the UK Resource Centre, nearly 1,750 people were asked if they could name a famous, outstanding or senior female engineer. Although nearly 70% of the participants worked in the engineering industry, only 35% answered ‘yes’. We need women in pivotal and powerful roles to be more visible, to provide encouragement to girls questioning whether a career in engineering is right for them. The event Ada Lovelace Day, which celebrates the achievements of all women in science and engineering as well as Ada herself, is a great step toward doing so.

There are many ways in which engineers and industry organisations could engage with girls. Initiatives such as STEMnet, media opportunities, the Big Bang Fair and Ada Lovelace Day play a crucial role in tackling the gender imbalance in STEM subjects. The industry must continue to support these initiatives, while also exploring new ways to inspire girls who could be tomorrow’s engineers.

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