08 March 2013

Deputy president calls for more women in engineering

Judith Hackitt

IChemE deputy president and chair of the Great Britain Health and Safety Executive Judith Hackitt CBE has called for greater focus on encouraging women to pursue careers in engineering.

Speaking on International Women’s Day, Hackitt said: “We need more women to enter engineering and to recognise that it’s a career choice which enables us to make a real difference for future generations.

“I believe that access to education for all women in the developing world and encouraging women to play a key role in addressing some of the planet's biggest problems by becoming engineers is key to creating the legacy we need for future generations,” said Hackitt. 

“We need sustainable solutions to the energy, food, water, health and well being challenges which face both the developed and developing world.” Hackitt added

Hackitt’s call echoed that of UK Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Vince Cable earlier this week. Cable, speaking at the Engineering Employers Federation dinner on Tuesday highlighted that the UK has fewer female engineers than anywhere else in the European Union and that the nation could be left behind unless more is done to encourage women to pursue careers in engineering.

“Engineering sits at the heart of our plan for rebalancing the economy, so I am working across government and with industry to ensure the next decade is the decade of the engineer.

"In medicine, women now represent more than half the workforce. Yet currently fewer than one in ten professional engineers in UK are women. To achieve our goals, we will require a long-term partnership with industry to improve funding for skills training, to highlight the achievements of pioneering female engineers and to encourage teachers and parents to spread the message that engineering is an exciting, high value career option for women as well as men,” said Cable.

Chemical engineering continues to lead the way amongst the engineering disciplines with 1 in 4 of UK chemical engineering students female. Civil Engineering lags behind with around 1 in 7, whilst mechanical engineering draws just 1 in 20.

Over the last decade the number of women opting to study chemical engineering at UK universities has increased from 268 to 673, an increase of 151%.

Jarka Glassey, Chair of IChemE’s Education Special Interest Group studied in Slovakia and noted a very different perception of engineering careers amongst women: “The number of students opting for engineering subjects is much higher in Slovakia than in the UK. There are lessons we must learn from Europe because it would be great to see more female undergraduates here in the UK.

“My personal experience is in the biochemical field and this is one area where there is quite a high proportion of women. In the future biochemical engineering will help to ensure we have safe and secure water and food supplies. It is an area that has a lot to offer from addressing issues of sustainability to meeting the medical needs of an ageing population,” said Glassey

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IChemE is a registered charity in England & Wales (214379), and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 039661).