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On 10 March 2023, Professor Lord Robert Mair CBE, Founding Head of CSIC at the University of Cambridge, spoke in the House of Lords contributing to the debate on International Women’s Day stressing the importance of inspiring more women to study engineering.

In his speech, Lord Mair emphasised both the important role that engineers play in tackling increasing global challenges and the pressing need for a more diversified engineering workforce. Data from EngineeringUK, for example, shows that women make up only 15% of those working in engineering, while UCAS reports that applications from women to study engineering at university in the UK make up only 16% of those accepted. Lord Mair stressed the importance of attracting more women to consider engineering as a career and overcoming the perception of engineering as a purely  ‘machinery and hard hats subject’.

Engineers play a hugely important role in shaping the world we live in, not least in the engineering response to the Covid-19 pandemic and in helping us reach net zero emissions by 2050, so it is even more important that the engineering profession reflects the whole society it seeks to serve. Professor Lord Robert Mair, Founding Head of CSIC

Lord Mair praised some very inspiring initiatives such as the This is Engineering campaign by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the All-Party Parliamentary Engineering Group APPEG;  these offer activities aimed at expanding knowledge of engineering studies by showing the wide range of topics that engineering covers and the huge variety of opportunities. Despite a positive increasing trend in engaging young women in technical subjects, Lord Mair stated that the proportion of females active in engineering is still very small (see further reading below).

Lord Mair argued that the main obstacle to female engagement in engineering rests in public perception of the profession, which begins to take shape already among young children. He underlined the important role of schools and teachers in helping children to develop an interest in the subject by exposing them to the understanding of engineering as ‘applied science’ covering a wide range of subjects, including those related to building the net-zero world of the future. Lord Mair also stressed the importance of promoting engineering as not simply a boys’ subject; this needs to be impressed upon very young students, because “when engineering is offered at such an early age, gender is hardly an issue – not only can girls be engineers but the boys know that girls can be engineers”. He drew attention to the example of Primary Engineer, an organisation founded in 2005 by Dr Susan Scurlock, which engages around 4,000 teachers, 60,000 pupils and 1,500 engineers from hundreds of companies to expose children as young as three and four to exciting engineering subjects.

Lord Mair concluded his speech by saying “we must make it an urgent priority to provide many more girls with the skills needed for the exciting, highly varied and fulfilling world of engineering. They are the future, and have so much to offer”.

 

  • Watch the debate here (Lord Mair speech is at 13.16.58)
  • Read the Hansard transcripts of the debate here
  • Further reading: A 2022 report from EngineeringUK: Women in Engineering

 

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