FEM ENG: the female engineers on the right side on the gender divide

It’s International Women’s Day, people across the globe are celebrating female success in politics, culture and economics.  This year’s slogan is “be bold for change”, calling on people to forge a better, more inclusive and gender equal world.

In 2010, the UK Government called for drastic changes to be made as only 7% of students studying STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) were female.

Improvements have been made towards attainment of women in in STEM subjects in High Schools across the UK but the numbers of girls going on to study in these areas are still bellow required levels.

15.8% of engineering and technology undergraduates in the UK are female, but how does it feel to be a female in a subject studied predominately by men? We spoke with three Chemical Engineering Students: Astrid, Lucy and Nurul to find out.

The students, all in their final year studying at Herriot Watt University, agreed there are areas where the university could improve, having more female lecturers for example. Chemical and Civil Engineering courses are the most gender balanced subjects at university with Mechanical and Electrical massively male dominated.

Astrid is Swedish thinks her home nation is far more progressive, holding a lesser gender pay gap and that workplaces are generally more balanced. When asked if quotas should be established, she said:

“Quotas are good if the employer is prejudiced and thinks men are better with some oil and gas jobs where the person is of the generation who prefer men for the job. Then Quotas are good so we (women) get a chance to prove it.”

At times, the students have felt self-conscious about asking “stupid questions” or being bossy especially in group situations.

Lucy sated: “I like structure, but I don’t want to seem like a bitch. If you are introducing a question you tend to play it down, I’m going to say something stupid but hear me out. You don’t have to say that but we do.”

One of the most telling signs that our society still has further to come in terms of gender equality, is the reactions the students get when they tell people they study engineering.

Lucy has noticed people don’t know how to react when she tells them what she does:

“It kills the conversation dead. People don’t know what to say”

Nurul had an even more revealing conversation with a punter at the bar she works in:

“Someone said to me, a girl like you shouldn’t be doing chemical engineering, you should be doing something like nursing”

The students at Herriot Watt believe the future is bright for women within the world of engineering and think progress is being made. Astrid is set on doing a PHD in Sweden, while Nurul and Lucy will be pursuing careers in engineering, future role models in the making.

Listen to the highlights from our chat here:


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