"The best thing about being an Engineer is the same, regardless of gender."

Emma, UKESF Scholar 2014–17

Guest blog post: Where are the queues for the loos?

At the UKESF we recognise that trying to get more girls involved with Electronics is a key part of tackling the skills challenge. We asked Emma, one of our final-year UKESF Scholars, for her views after she had attended the annual Student Conference organised by WES. Here are her thoughts…

Where are the queues for the loos?

I met an Engineer once who said that the best thing about being a woman in an engineering environment was that she never had to queue for the toilets. I rather like that response. It’s a silly answer to the silly question, “What’s it like being a female engineer?” The text book response is, of course, two-fold: a) I’ve never been a ‘male engineer’ so I wouldn’t be able to give you a balanced comparison, and b) you would never ask a ‘male engineer’ the opposing question.

The best thing about being an Engineer is the same, regardless of gender. The problem solving, the creativity, that feeling you get when you see an idea that existed only in your mind, however long ago, as a tangible entity that functions exactly as you designed it.

I am aware that I come at this from a position of some privilege as I spent thirteen years at a private girls’ school in Hertfordshire where the only consideration required for your desired future career was whether you could acquire the necessary skills. My parents are very supportive and waste no time in telling anyone and everyone how their daughter studies Electronic Engineering. My grandfather worked with aircraft and automotive engines and my great-grandfather was a Mechanical Engineer, so having an Engineer in the family is not a new concept. However, many young people, of any gender, are not so lucky. Engineering is still viewed by many people as getting your hands dirty fixing cars or men on building sites in hard hats, something a quick Google image search of the word ‘engineer’ will support. Public perception often fails to understand the multitude of different types of engineering. These points were highlighted by Dr Rhys Morgan from the Royal Academy of Engineering and Dr Joanna Collingwood from the University of Warwick, speaking at the recent WES Student Conference.

As far as I am aware, my gender has never negatively impacted on my engineering career. Personally, my issues come where I think that my gender has caused me to be on the receiving end of preferential treatment, such as being invited to certain occasions where I get the feeling that the fact that I am a woman is a key factor to my presence at the event. Over the last few years, I have had several conversations which have hinged on the assumption that I will be successful in my career endeavours due to my gender. There is a view that companies are more likely to hire women into engineering jobs in order to not be seen as discriminating against females, but of course this positive discrimination is still discrimination.

It is interesting to note that at a primary school where I volunteer to teach coding, the split across the class has always been fairly even between boys and girls. However, I have met many young women who were the only girls in their further Maths A-level class and thus felt under unnecessary pressure to outshine their male counterparts. This anecdotal evidence would tend to suggest that the issues of stereotyping creep into girls’ consciousness as they grow older.

Some efforts to counteract this stereotyping are made with the best intentions but are rather poorly executed. Attempting to attract girls into pursuing engineering careers does not mean making pink tool kits or explaining the engineering required to make a cupcake! Engineering does not need ‘dumbing down’ in order to become attractive to girls. What’s required is inspiring role models who provide a clear vision of their potential future and better awareness of the entirety of engineering in the mainstream media. The recent television program ‘The Big Life Fix’ on BBC2 featured a team, comprising four men and three women from various engineering disciplines, who came up with solutions for a variety of problems, none of which involved what most people would understand as traditional heavy industry engineering. The fixes involved, amongst other things, writing apps, 3D printing, material science and electronics.

We need to expose the girls to these positive images when they are young in order to break the cycle of the existing state of affairs so that, one day, I can look forward to having to queue for the toilet!

One response to “Guest blog post: Where are the queues for the loos?”

  1. Spot on, Emma! Hopefully as more young women hear the message and consider engineering, you will get your wish of queuing for the toilet!

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