Why engineering employers need to get behind International Women in Engineering Day – EngineeringUK

Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive of EngineeringUK, discusses how employers and employees can inspire the next generation by getting behind International Women in Engineering Day.


There is, it seems, an awareness day for anything and everything. But one that truly deserves to be on everyone’s radar, especially as we face serious workforce shortages, is International Women in Engineering Day, taking place on 23 June. Now in its 10th year, INWED celebrates the outstanding achievements of women engineers throughout the world and profiles amazing career opportunities available to girls in this exciting industry.

What difference can a day make?

Well, I believe stories matter. It’s an opportunity for women in engineering to share their stories and inspire young people – and especially girls – who may think ‘STEM is not for me’. It is also a time to collectively amplify and celebrate progressive companies with active inclusive recruitment, progression and retention policies.

While girls lead the way in STEM subject grades, most drop-off from studying these subjects post-16, and, particularly, in pursuing further education, training and careers in engineering or technology. More needs to be done to encourage girls and young women into these areas, by igniting passion, building confidence, and showing them how their own interests and values align with those of the profession.

EngineeringUK conducted a review (June 2023) examining evidence on interventions that aim to increase girls’ aspirations for engineering and technology careers and key findings highlighted the importance of early engagement and ensuring activities challenge gender stereotypes around engineering and technology. Girls are empowered by seeing relatable female role models – cliches of men in hi-vis vests and hard hats do little to illustrate the fascinating roles the industry offers and draw women in. There is much to be done too, around adapting outreach programmes to the needs, interests and preferences of girls. At EngineeringUK, we test and iterate all our activities for young people to build up their impact especially from groups under-represented in engineering and technology.

In fact, we’ll be putting this into action this week (19th  – 21st June) when we’ll be welcoming about 20,000 young people to The Big Bang Fair at the NEC, showcasing the breath of STEM careers and inspiring some of tomorrow’s STEM professionals. We’ll be supported by many hundreds of volunteers and exhibitors – many thanks if you’re joining us. It’s a fantastic opportunity for industry professionals to meet with young people and inspire and encourage them. We’ll also be celebrating The Big Bang Competition finalists and announcing the winners; the competition encourages and celebrates practical work which we know is really motivating to young people, especially girls.

At the Big Bang Fair, we’ll be emphasising the many pathways into a career in engineering and technology, especially the apprenticeships and T Levels which offer a real opportunity to young people who want more hands-on training. These varied pathways benefit young people and help widen the talent pool and increase diversity.

As well as inspiring young people, INWED might provide the prompt for some bold conversations needed across the workplace – the CEO, Board, and HR – to improve gender balance and achieve real change. Some companies are making strong commitments in this area. For instance, Siemens has pledged to see at least 30% of women in top management by the end of 2025.
Another example is Emm, a female-led company producing smart menstrual products using tech working with the University of Cambridge, Innovate UK and Google for Startups. This example also conveys how increasing workplace diversity can ensure that the needs of the whole population are met, not just those who happen to be working in engineering and technology. Emm is also working with its subcontractors to improve their gender diversity.

Many organisations run diversity groups, like Rolls-Royce’s UK Gender Diversity Network, overseen by Nipuni Karunaratne, a finalist in this year’s IET Young Women Engineer award. Nipuni’s view is that ‘STEM is for everyone and has no barriers’ and she’s determined to be a role model. We need more women like Nipuni to share their inspiring stories because role models matter to young people – especially young girls.

It would be great to hear more from employers this International Women in Engineering Day on how they are working to recruit and retain talent.

And please do share your stories and celebrate the women you work with on #INWED24.

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