23 Jun 2021 STEAM / STEM

Women in Engineering Day 2021: getting girls into STEM

It’s International Women in Engineering Day 2021! We’re celebrating all women, past and present, whose involvement in STEM has made the world a better place.

History is full of women whose ideas have shaped way we live our daily lives. From Mary Anderson, windscreen wiper inventor, to Beatrice Shilling, aerospace pioneer and motorcycle racer, there are dozens of stories about women who bucked trends to make heroic advances in engineering.

Despite that, there is a depressing imbalance in UK engineering. Statistics on women in engineering show that just 12.37% of the UK’s engineers are women, despite girls achieving on-average higher grades in most GCSE STEM subjects .

Women are awarded more Firsts and 2:1s than their male counterparts in engineering degrees, yet they only represent a tiny fraction of their industries- something needs to change.

That’s why we’re celebrating Women in Engineering Day, #INWED21, this coming Wednesday, 23 June. At STEAMWORKS we want take on problem and amplify the voices of women engineers. We’ll prove to the girls in the next generation of engineers that they will succeed and make a difference to the STEM world.

What is Women in Engineering Day?

The Women’s Engineering Society (WES) set up the International Women in Engineering Day in 2014. It celebrates all women in engineering positions and to question why there are so few women pursuing engineering careers.

It’s world’s biggest initiative celebrating the achievements of engineering women, it’s momentum has rapidly built up since it’s inception. In 2020, #INWED hit the number one trending spot on Twitter and stayed there for the rest of the day.

Women remain grossly underrepresented in engineering today. Girls continue to drop off from science subjects by the time they start their A-Levels, so the day amplifies the conversation and asks the uncomfortable questions about why girls are so consistently put off from STEM careers.

From internet forums to university lecture theatres, coffee shop meet ups to international celebrations- the event has even thrived in a virtual setting and continues to tell stories of the world’s very best women in engineering.

What we do at STEAMWORKS

Amongst the many barriers, difficulties and drawbacks which dissuade girls from engineering is the lack of exposure to science in primary education.

Raising the profile of STEM in primary education battles the stereotypes and stigmas around science subjects before they become ingrained. That means debunking any notion that they are predominantly male or don’t provide an avenue to exercise your creativity.

At STEAMWORKS, we always endeavour to promote girls in STEM and give them the confidence to realise there’s no such thing as boys or girls subjects.

Proving to the girls at our FabLabs or those getting their training as Young Science Ambassadors that it’s okay to be just as excited about all things STEM as we are. In our sessions, we ask girls if they see themselves as scientists- by the end they without hesitation say “yes!”

Getting female STEM role models directly into the classroom is also incredibly important. Our club leaders, all brimming with an infectious enthusiasm for STEM, prove to everyone there that engineering could be for them.

Inspirational Engineers in History

The theme of this year’s Women in Engineering Day is #EngineeringHeroes, which reflects the significant role women engineers played in the COVID-19 response last year.

INWED 2021 will be profiling the best, brightest and bravest women in engineering, but it’s as much about everyday ‘heroics’ as emergency ones – how engineering affects every single aspect of our daily lives. 

WES– Announcing this year’s themes and sponsors

Along with congratulating today’s engineers, we’re remembering others who can show you the wide scope of Women in Engineering Day. Ranging from daring air travel innovators to budding electronic musicians, there are countless mavericks and unsung heroes to choose from. We’ve picked out five examples, some well known, others more obscure.

Amy Johnson

Women in engineering day biography for Amy Johnson

An aerospace engineering icon and all-round flying daredevil, Johnson was the first women to make the solo flight from London to Australia in 1930 (just 27 years after the first ever flight by the Wright Brothers). In the years that followed she broke dozens of other records before disappearing in 1941, whilst completing a supply running mission for the RAF.

In Sheffield today you can see the Amy Johnson Building at the University of Sheffield, the engineering lab named in her honour.

Alice Perry

Women in engineering day biography for Alice Perry

In 1906, Perry became the first women in Great Britain to gain a degree in engineering – that’s a full 12 years before women gained the vote.

She received a First (Hons) in Civil Engineering in Queen’s College Galway in what is now the Republic of Ireland and in doing so paving the way for all other women to eventually gain the same education opportunities as men.

Edith Clarke

Women in engineering day biography for Edith Clarke

Edith Clarke holds the record for dozens ‘firsts’ in the US. She was the first American women to gain a degree in electrical engineering, the first to be employed as an electrical engineer, the first female professor of electrical engineering in the country AND the first to be made a fellow of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

After smashing so many barriers Clarke gained national fame and her work remains influential to this day. Her textbooks and papers remained on budding engineer’s syllabuses for decades, at a time when the idea women in engineering still seemed crazy. When asked about the demand for women engineers, she simply replied that, instead of a demand for women or men, “there’s always a demand for anyone who can do a good piece of work.”

Katherine Johnson

Women in engineering day biography for Katherine Johnson

Johnson was one of a large group of American women whose calculations made the US space programme a success.

Before computers could complete complex calculations, and your average lunar capsule had less processing power than the mobile phone in your pocket, teams of women worked endlessly to ensure that the missions were completed without disaster.

Johnson’s mathematical know-how was trusted more by astronauts that NASA’s early super computers . John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, refused board his rocket until Johnson had double checked all the computers’ calculations.

Delia Derbyshire

Women in engineering day biography for Delia Derbyshire

In the world of music and sound engineering, Delia Derbyshire’s work set in motion near all electronic music that followed it. She is best known for her work at the BBC, creating the Doctor Who theme tune in 1963. It became the first ever TV theme tune to be created by 100% electrical instruments.

Despite this, the credit went to her boss, Ron Grainer, and she went uncredited for a full 50 years until the show’s anniversary special in 2013.