A few months after the end of the First World War, with significant steps taken towards women’s suffrage, a committee of influential women — ranging from designers and munitions factory managers to wives of eminent engineers — founded the Women’s Engineering Society (WES).
Hetal Patel, marketing projects manager for Advanced Engineering — the UK’s ‘largest annual manufacturing and engineering exhibition’ — says that progress for women in industry has often seemed to stagnate in the last 100 years.
“As we celebrated the centenary of the Women’s Engineering Society on 23 June 1919, the fact that only 11% of the UK’s engineers are female was ‘a tough pill to swallow’. The Society’s initial journal outlined its aims to ‘encourage and stimulate all women who are interested in engineering’, but today’s figures show that it is often hard to see these efforts come to fruition.
“The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineers in Europe; and the figure isn’t set to rise any time soon. It is estimated that less than 8% of engineering and manufacturing apprentices are female, with figures plunging to as low as 2% in the building and construction sector.
"The UK needs to significantly increase its number of engineers; the STEM skills shortage is costing businesses £1.5 billion in recruitment every year. For the engineering sector to reduce its skills shortage, it needs to employ around 186,000 recruits each year until 2024.”
Ms Patel says a lack of role models is often cited as a reason why women shy away from a career in this industry. “However, the reality is that our engineering heroines are often unsung.
The pressures of war drew many women to the home front, only for them to experience rebuke once men returned. In resistance, the founders of WES created a committee that promotes engineering as a rewarding profession for women
as well as men . . . if we are to progress, we must strive for a more balanced workforce that reflects the diversity of our society and invests in the development of all talented workers.”
WES will be exhibiting at Advanced Engineering — 30-31 October at the NEC, Birmingham (www.advancedengineeringuk.com