As we celebrated International Women in Engineering day earlier this month, She Can Engineer, a group of young female engineers, organised an evening of talks and panel discussions, in association with WES (Women’s Engineering Society), to celebrate not only women, but also diversity in the industry.
She Can Engineer includes young engineers from ICE (Institution of Civil Engineers), IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology), IMechE (Institution of Mechanical Engineers), IChemE (Institution of Chemical Engineers), CIWEM (Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management), ITS, IStructE (The Institution of Structural Engineers) and CIBSE (Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers).
Professor Alice P. Gast, President of Imperial College London, (ICL) gave the opening speech and stated it is an auspicious time to be celebrating women in engineering. “But we’re not just celebrating International Women in Engineering day, we are also celebrating 100 years of women in engineering, and I want to say I am grateful for all the previous female engineers that have done so much for us.”
She explained it was WISE, a campaign that encourages women and girls to value and pursue science, technology, engineering and maths-related courses in school or college and move on into related careers and progress, that originally attracted her into engineering, and she is so glad and would never look back. “For decades and centuries female engineers have been making phenomenal impacts to our lives.”
“This year we are also this year celebrating 50 years since the Apollo moon landing, and at the time it seemed as though it was just all men. But actually women were involved with the design and engineering, and it’s only now that these females are getting the recognition and media coverage they deserve,” Gast explained.
Gast expressed how important it is that we have each other: “We can all inspire each other like all the empowering women before us, and we must not be shy with sharing our contributions.”
Women are often overlooked when it comes to their technical expertise, so it is essential females make themselves visible.
Whilst it is empowering and important to celebrate the success women have had, Gast commented: “As we celebrate what we’ve done, we must not forget how far we still have to go. We are still under represented on executive boards, and although women are credited half the jobs in the world, only a quarter of jobs in STEM are occupied by women.”
A few things are already in place to aid women, such as the Women at Imperial annual event. Gast explained: “Over the course of a week we celebrate the staff and students, past and present. Every year I say the Women at Imperial event should take place every day, as we are showing our students that they can lead the way.”
WE Innovate is ICL’s flagship female entrepreneurship education programme designed to support the next generation of women entrepreneurs to accelerate their startups. It accelerates female-led startups through a tailored programme which gives Imperial students the opportunity to attend masterclasses on topics like customer discovery, design and pitching; business coaching and idea surgeries and pitch training. WE Innovate also gives students opportunities to network and meet with investors, entrepreneurs and business leaders. Gast explained: “Women are very entrepreneurial, so this programme is perfect for helping these women with funding, mentoring and the experience they need for a successful business. Last year we had 100 women come forward, the competition is high.”
She added: “Innovation will remain sub-optimal, when only one gender is occupied.”
Finally, the Agents for Change network is designed for women aged 18-64, to give them access to mix with academic and business experts, and most importantly with each other. Gast said: “One can learn as much from mentoring someone, as being mentored yourself. Being a mentor is an incredibly important and powerful tool.”
To conclude Gast explained it is all about breaking down barriers. “We are making progress, but we still have some way to go, so as women we need to pull together and always try to be active and visible role models.”