54 Years of Working to Address Gender Diversity in Engineering


Image removed.Over 50 years ago, brilliant British engineer Dr Cosby Smallpeice ploughed £1.6m of his personal fortune into setting up The Smallpeice Trust, to give young people, especially girls, the role models and experiences to fuel their passion for engineering. With International Women in Engineering Day (#INWED20) on the horizon, Dr Kevin P Stenson, chief executive at The Smallpeice Trust, continues to drive the charity’s mission and provides us with an update on its work and the results.


As we all recognise, the problem of gender inequality in engineering isn’t based on a lack of opportunities for women; it is simply a case of female students not considering this as a potential career.

Although giving women the opportunities and experience of working in engineering is one of our main goals, we also focus on supporting other underrepresented communities including ethnic diversity and those from less privileged families. Since 1966, The Smallpeice Trust has worked hard to address these inequalities and thankfully we are starting to see things change!

For those of you are aren’t aware, the success of The Smallpeice Trust is based on the positive working relationships we have with our industry partners. Organisations ranging from the RAF and Siemens to the National Grid and Thales. These organisations give up their time to talk to our students about career opportunities and run training events at school, at universities, or on their own premises, so students can experience a broad range of ‘engineering in action.’

In response to Covid-19, we have recently launched four new online courses but ultimately, it is our partners who provide our students with the inspirational female role models that they can meet, talk to and aspire to become.

It is our residential courses, including those for students that have secured an Arkwright Engineering Scholarship, that benefit from the premises and accommodation at our academic partners’ sites, including universities across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

As we once again celebrate International Women in Engineering Day (#INWED20), I wanted to give you an example of just one of our success stories, who through her gender and ethnic heritage is a wonderful ambassador for INWED 2020: Khadijah Ismail.

As a young child living near Manchester Airport, Khadijah was fascinated by the wonder of flight.

Thankfully her school was aware of our Arkwright Engineering Scholarships and at 16 she won this prestigious award. 

With the award came several hundred pounds which she decided to invest in a robot for her school. However, it was when Khadijah made her A-level choices that she came face to face with her first significant challenge; only one examining board and a few hundred students across the UK opt for electronics at A-level. Once again Khadijah battled on and managed to study for the A-level at the neighbouring boys’ school.

As a valued partner of The Smallpeice Trust, and recognising her passion, two years later BAE Systems offered Khadijah a five-year degree apprenticeship in aerospace engineering. Overall, only eight per cent of UK engineering apprentices are female; thankfully BAE is helping Khadijah and The Smallpeice Trust to ‘Shape the World’ with 26 per cent of its apprentices being female.

Today, not only is Khadijah’s career flourishing but she is also finding time to pass on her positive experiences to other minority groups; gender, race and socioeconomic standing. She continues to work with us to share the most empowering talks to Arkwright Engineering Scholars and in schools. She also mentors teenagers with engineering potential.

Thankfully Khadijah is just one, albeit a particularly inspirational example, of the increasing number of girls we have attending our courses, securing an Arkwright Engineering Scholarship and progressing into successful careers in engineering.

In addition to doubling the number of young people we reach, last year through focussed engagement activities, we reached our goal of achieving a 50:50 balance of male and females on our range of courses; but it’s only the start. We still have a long way to go to achieve our dream and continue to support the work of WES to ‘Shape the World’.

Five days after INWED20 we will be celebrating our 54th birthday. As an incredibly stable charity we will continue to invest our endowment fund over the next 54 years to see realise the impact on the engineering industry as a whole. 

I’ll leave you with Khadijah’s profound words, “I want to be a person where people look at me, Muslim girls, Asian girls, or anyone in that demographic who’s scared to take engineering and think it’s possible and do it. That would feel really good.”