International Women in Engineering Day is celebrated on June 23rd every year, to honour women in the field of engineering. It focuses on raising the profile of women who are changing the field of engineering one degree at a time.
The theme for 2022 is looking towards the future, focusing on the inventors and innovators who will change the industry for the better.
For centuries, women have played an essential role as designers and builders of critical structures and machines even before the term ‘engineer’ was coined in the 11th century. However, fields, such as engineering, have been largely kept shut from women. Upon the establishment of educational institutions, most universities didn’t admit women until the early 1800s, even then the admission remained sectioned to traditionally ‘female’ fields.
It wasn’t until the Second World War that serious attention was paid to women’s education in technical fields. Facing the reality of the shortage of technical labour. Even in the 21st century, STEM continues to be dominated by men.
International Women in Engineering Day began in the UK in 2014 as a national campaign from the Women’s Engineering Society to celebrate its 95th anniversary. Since then, INWED has grown enormously, receiving UNESCO patronage in 2016 and going truly global the following year.
Redrawing the Balance
As of March 2022, women make up 16.5% of all engineers compared to 10.5% reported in 2010. Whilst this is an improvement, there is still much to do to support engineering and technology employers to increase diversity and to enable women to take up opportunities in engineering.
Gender stereotyping starts at a young age - watch.
There are an increasing number of projects and campaigns designed to enable women to choose to do work they enjoy and to ensure that women are comfortable with using technology.
The Women’s Engineering Society run a number of programmes in collaboration with partners across science, technology, engineering and built environment to demonstrate that women can achieve in so-called non-traditional jobs and fields of work:
- STEM Returners – this began in 2018, a programme for returners and transferers across science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
- MentorSET – a mentoring programme for women in STEM.
- WE50 – an annual awards scheme to recognise 50 influential women in engineering and STEM.
Meet some Women in Engineering you may not have heard of...
Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852), English mathematician and “computer programmer”
Ada was raised under a strict regimen of science, logic, and mathematics.
In 1833 she was introduced to Charles Babbage, Professor of Mathematics. Lovelace was deeply intrigued by Babbage’s plans for a complicated device called the Analytical Engine, which was to combine adding gears of his earlier Difference Engine with an elaborate punch card operating system. It was never built, but the design had all the essential elements of a modern computer.
In 1842 Lovelace translated a short article describing the Analytical Engine, for publication in England. Babbage asked her to expand the article. It was over three times the length of the original and contains several early ‘computer programs,’ as well as strikingly perceptive observations on the potential uses of the machine, including the manipulation of symbols and creation of music, so she is often referred to as “the first computer programmer”.
The Analytical Engine remained a vision, until Lovelace’s notes became one of the critical documents to inspire Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers in the 1940s. Her potential, passion and vision for technology, have made her a powerful symbol for modern women in technology.
Alice Perry (1885 – 1965), first women to obtain an Engineering degree
In 1906 Alice was the first woman in Europe to gain an engineering degree (the next being not until 1912). Alice was surrounded by the inspiring work of her father, a surveyor who founded a electric light company, and her uncle who invented the Perry navigational gyroscope, but it was her own outstanding talent for maths that propelled her towards engineering.
After her fathers death she temporarily took on his role as County Surveyor for Galway but was not appointed to the permanent post. To this day, no other women has ever been a County Surveyor for Ireland.
Mary Jackson (1921 – 2005), American mathematician and aerospace engineer
In 1951, Mary started working at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, where she was a member of its West Area Computing Unit – comprising of African American female mathematicians. The women provided data that were later essential to the early success of the US space programme.
In 1953 Jackson left the West Computers to work for engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki. He suggested that Jackson enter a training program that would allow her to become an engineer. Due to schools still being segregated, she had to obtain special permission to take classes with white students. Jackson was ultimately successful and in 1958 became the first Black female engineer at NASA.
Evelyn Wang (1987 – Present), MIT, Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering
Evelyn Wang has been helping to transform the engineering curriculum by implementing new educational models and grand research challenges that will impact the way mechanical engineering is taught, not only at MIT, but also in other universities.
An internationally recognised leader in phase change heat transfer on nanostructure surfaces, Wang’s research focuses on high-efficiency energy and water systems. Her work on solar cells that convert heat into focused beams of light was named as one of MIT Technology Review’s 10 breakthrough technologies of 2017.
Check out the latest role the UK team are recruiting for here.