"There is a conflict between how teenage girls identify themselves and what they perceive to be the identity of ‘an engineer’."

Helen Wollaston, WISE

National Women in Engineering Day 2016

Although 23rd June this year will be long remembered as the date of the EU Referendum vote, it was also National Women in Engineering Day (NWED). This was created in 2014 by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) to focus attention on the opportunities for women in engineering. The day is now used to hold events that will inspire more girls to pursue engineering careers. This year, the UKESF used the day to formally launch our sector-specific People Like Me (PLM) Electronics resource pack.

I returned to my old university, Salford in Manchester, for the launch and was supported by Helen Wollaston, Chief Executive of the WISE Campaign and Prof Haifa Takruri-Rizk MBE. Helen has been the driving force behind the overall PLM initiative and encouraged me to create something specific for Electronics. Haifa has been inspiring and encouraging girls to get involved in STEM in over 20 years at the university.

plm nwed 23.06.16 close up
Y8 girls at Salford

I delivered the PLM session myself to an audience of 45 girls (Key Stage 3) from schools in the Greater Manchester area who were participating in a STEM workshop at Salford, guiding them through the PLM self-descriptive quiz and discussing the scope of Electronics job roles available.

Helen has explained the thinking behind the PLM approach by saying:

“There is a conflict between how teenage girls identify themselves and what they perceive to be the identity of ‘an engineer’. Engineering outreach programmes based on hands-on activities are not enough to convince most girls to choose engineering – they may enjoy the activity but they don’t see themselves as an engineer.”

This is very true; whilst girls may enjoy a hands-on STEM activity, the evidence is that these activities alone are only rarely sufficient to inspire them to choose engineering as a career choice. However, as Helen adds:

“The People Like Me campaign gets girls to select adjectives to describe themselves, matches these to two or three ‘types of scientist’ and shows them roles in engineering for people with a similar personality type. Don’t re-invent the wheel – use tried-and-tested techniques, based on robust evidence about what works with girls.”

Again this is true, last week the group of Y8s that I delivered the PLM session to found the quiz  engaging, enjoyable and accurate – as Helen says, the technique works. The girls were quite taken to realise that there are roles in STEM-related careers for people like them, and all the teachers were keen to have a copy of the PLM resource pack to run the session with additional groups of girls at their schools.

Kris Harrison, Head of Lean Engineering at Leonardo (one of the UKESF’s scholarship-sponsoring companies), also delivered the PLM quiz, to 100 Y10 girls at the school where her inspirational A-level Physics teacher now works, on NWED. She said:

Kris Harrison delivering the People Like Me session
Kris Harrison delivering her People Like Me session

“The People Like Me activity I ran as part of NWED worked really well. It went very smoothly and most of the girls found it really useful and interesting. One was very excited that she came out as the same ‘type’ as me, as she thought my job sounded very cool!”

So, we’ve taken a very positive step in launching People Like Me for the Electronics sector. I firmly believe that this fresh approach, in conjunction with all our other work, can – over time – start to make a difference and persuade more girls that Electronics is for people like them.

2 responses to “National Women in Engineering Day 2016”

  1. Congratulations to you Stew on your commitment to increase the number of females in engineering. It’s a long path but well worth pursuing.

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