Female Engineers Celebrated on First International Women in Engineering Day

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Over the past few months, our Spotlight on Women series has highlighted the contributions of many brilliant women in the field of 3D printing. Even as we’ve begun a new spotlight series focused on educators, we’re still receiving responses from women eager to share their stories with us, and we will continue to share those stories with you. We’re definitely not the only organization focusing on women in technology, however. This year marks the 95th anniversary of the Women’s Engineering Society, and to celebrate, the organization has launched the first-ever International Women in Engineering Day, today, June 23rd, following three years of success with national days of celebration.

Why is such a day necessary? For the same reason we felt our Spotlight on Women series was necessary: while women have made great strides in fields such as engineering and 3D printing, they’re still greatly under-represented. According to the Women’s Engineering Society, only 9% of the UK engineering workforce is female, a worryingly low number. Since 2012, the number of young women studying engineering and physics has remained virtually unchanged, meaning that the gender gap is likely to remain unchanged for a while. Stats are similar around the world, with women accounting for about 15% of the engineering workforce in the US.

The UK-based Women’s Engineering Society decided to launch a day dedicated to female engineers in 2014, and this year it’s gone global – because although the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, the problem is a worldwide one. International Women in Engineering Day is designed to draw attention to the gap, as well as to inspire more girls and women to look at careers in engineering as possibilities.

There are still a lot of misconceptions about feminism – and one of them is that it’s for women only. The Women’s Engineering Society is addressing that misconception by naming the theme of this year’s Women in Engineering Day “Men as Allies.” Feminism isn’t about being superior to, or replacing, men – it’s about being on the same level, and the Women’s Engineering Society wants to encourage men to support their female colleagues, as well as their potential future colleagues.

[Image: Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme via Twitter]

When there’s an imbalance, whether it’s gender or race-based, the imbalance tends to feed itself – women see a field full of men and think “well, I can’t do that,” or feel intimidated by entering a classroom where there are very few or even no other females. Thus, they don’t pursue that particular field, further widening the gender gap. Men aren’t necessarily responsible for generating these feelings of intimidation, though there are always unfortunate instances of sexism and harassment in any field. But a man entering a field full of men doesn’t always see the challenges that a woman faces in the same field. The harassment that does happen. The pressure of feeling like one has to represent one’s entire gender, or that one doesn’t belong. The fear that “If I fail, everyone will think it’s because I’m a woman.”

Thus, the Women’s Engineering Society has introduced the social media hashtag #MenAsAllies (in addition to the hashtag #INWED17) to give male engineers a simple way to say “Yes, of course you’re welcome here. We support you.”

A big part of International Women in Engineering Day is reaching out to girls and young women, and showing them that engineering is a career that they can thrive in. Many female students don’t pursue engineering degrees because it’s simply never been presented to them as a viable option, and while schools are working hard to reach students of all genders with STEM programs, there’s a real need for girls to see other women who have succeeded in these fields. The Women’s Engineering Society, as part of today’s celebration, has released a list of the Top 50 Women in Engineering Under 35 in the UK, chosen from more than 500 nominations – which is encouraging in itself.

“We had a very high response to the campaign this year and were hugely impressed with the entries,” said Kirsten Bodley, Chief Executive of the Women’s Engineering Society. “This list of inspirational younger women shows the breadth and depth of talent and innovation across all engineering sectors. It is a great way of encouraging the next generation to enter the engineering and allied sectors and for women to succeed there.”

Abi Bush of Field Ready with a colleague [Image: Premier]

Several of those women are from companies we cover regularly, such as Sophie Dent, Sophie Harker and Victoria Roots of BAE Systems; Abbie Hutty of Airbus; Lucy Ackland of Renishaw; and Abi Bush of Field Ready. There’s a lot of overlap between 3D printing and engineering, which we have been seeing in our Spotlight on Women interviews, and in fact, 3D printing can be a doorway into an engineering career (or vice versa). We’ve heard from several engineers-by-training who have risen to greatly influence the 3D printing industry, such as chemical engineer Kara Noack with BASF and mechanical engineer Katie Weimer with 3D Systems.

The generation of children who are in school today are the first who are being raised on 3D printing, and it’ll be interesting to see if that has an effect on the demographics of the engineering industry in the future. 3D printing is fun and kids love it, regardless of gender, and it’s been much-lauded as a technology that can get kids interested in STEM subjects from a young age.

Will 3D printing be instrumental in breaking down gender barriers? It’s too soon to tell, but we certainly hope that our Spotlight series has inspired at least a few women to explore their own 3D printing and STEM-related pursuits, and that the newly-global International Women in Engineering Day does the same for engineering. Discuss in the Women in Engineering forum at 3DPB.com.


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