Celebrating International Women in Engineering Day 2018

A photo of IDCMC Student

This post was originally published on the University of Sheffield's Mechanical Engineering Blog.

Victoria Mawson is a mechanical engineering PhD student aligned with Energy 2050 - one of the UK’s largest energy research institutes - and the IDC in Machining Science - a unique collaboration between the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and the Faculty of Engineering.

A member of the Women in Engineering Society at the University of Sheffield and a STEM ambassador for IMechE too, in her guest blog she tells us more about International Women in Engineering Day 2018 and why she is encouraging the next generation of female engineers to get stuck into a career in STEM.

This year, the 28th of June was firmly noted in my diary.

It was International Women in Engineering Day, an annual event that aims to raise the profile of women in STEM and showcases the different career opportunities and paths available. This is something I firmly believe we need to keep doing - especially as the Women in Engineering Society found that the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe. It’s less than 10%.

So that’s why, to celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, I took part in a careers speed-networking event in association with Gaia Innovation and Arm UK. For me, we need to keep inspiring the younger generation to explore and pursue STEM subjects which will in turn help them to access higher education and careers in STEM fields. And it needs to start as early as possible.

Bringing together over 100 girls from schools across the country, the speed-networking event was a fantastic day of activities and talks – introducing the girls to a wide range of jobs in the industry, broadening their horizons and encouraging them to aim high.

As part of the day I spent time talking to multiple groups of girls about my current role in engineering, how I got into it and offering tips on how to start their own careers in the field. It was great to see their enthusiasm and really rewarding to share my own experiences and knowledge about the less well-known areas of science and engineering.

I also managed to break the stereotype that many of the girls had about engineers and how we just wear boiler suits and baggy trousers!

But I was also honest. Yes, gender stereotyping can and does happen but I have always felt supported in making the choice to enter engineering. Women should not fear working in a male-dominated field but rather focus on the skills they can bring to the job and the different viewpoints that are essential to any workplace. It is concerning that a lot of talented girls aren’t aware that engineering is a choice of career for them, or are put off as they don’t believe it to be a glamorous job. It is one of the reasons that as part of the Women in Engineering Society at the University of Sheffield and as a STEM ambassador for IMechE, I’m always up for volunteering for events involving promoting women in engineering.

By creating these experiences for girls to explore science and technology in a creative and insightful way, we can help them to explore their potential and curiosity. We can help them to imagine the impact they could have as an engineer.

Highlighting the need for creativity, communication and teamwork within a career in engineering also helps shift the pre-conceptions that engineering is just about maths, physics and getting your hands dirty.

For me, a degree in engineering has opened a magnitude of opportunities that I would have never expected. I graduated hoping to enter the building industry, yet now find myself working to reduce the energy consumption of manufacturing facilities using machine learning.

The wide range of avenues a degree in engineering can take you is endless. Although my PhD may be in the area of manufacturing, there’s nothing stopping me from working in the medical industry working to develop the next surgical robot or working in banking, using my coding skills for financial analysis.

Raising awareness of engineering as a subject through outreach activities helps to increase the proportion of girls considering engineering and to remind the younger generation to pursue their passion regardless of background or gender.

And what better message can there be?

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