Laura Kirk, a former employee of The Institution of Structural Engineers, is a Graduate Engineer at Cundall engineering consultancy. Here she talks about what the UK’s National Women in Engineering Day means to her.
I am proud of the work I undertook at The Institution, and now working as a graduate structural engineer at Cundall’s London offices, I have the chance to work on a range of exciting projects.
National Women in Engineering Day is really important, as it helps raise awareness of engineering among girls and emphasise that it’s a realistic and exciting career prospect for them. It’s also important as it helps address the common public perception of engineering as a male industry (although this is rapidly changing).
Currently there is little opportunity to become involved in engineering before university - the focus is on mathematics and science as separate subjects. It’s great to encourage study in these areas, but without prior experience it can be difficult for students to know if they will find engineering interesting or suited to their skills. Some schools offer an engineering diploma (GCSE equivalents) or A levels in engineering (primarily in electronics and manufacturing), and it would be great if these were offered more widely.
As an industry we should engage more with younger students. For example, I attended an event held at a local girls secondary school and spoke to many students of ranging ages about structural engineering. Some wanted to find out more information, others were not really aware of engineering as a career option. We should encourage schools to hold more ‘reach-out’ events like this as we can provide friendly, practical advice and hopefully inspire potential engineers with our own example.
Opportunities for women in the structural engineering profession are pretty wide-ranging, and growing all the time. We are starting to see more and more women working in engineering consultancies, across different disciplines, and that is great. As a young woman just starting on her career I have worked with many successful women who are a daily inspiration.
On the other hand, in construction you still see few women working ‘on site’, so there is more work to be done there. We also need to celebrate our achievements more as an industry, particularly in the built environment; by raising our status in the public perception, the value of engineering will become more widely known and will catch the interest or more and more people – whether young women or men.
On National Women in Engineering Day I’d encourage any engineers to shout about the women who inspire them and the impact their work has. The more we do this the greater success we’ll have encourage girls to take on engineering careers, and discover the wonderful opportunities involved.