Girls cannot be engineers. They’re just not as clever as boys. Girls shouldn’t put their hands up in class or be interested in science.
They can’t do well in maths or physics, not like boys can. Girls should have toy dolls, not bricks. They should play at being rescued, not trying to solve problems. Girls shouldn’t get their hands dirty or do anything adventurous. They shouldn’t work to change the world or earn a good salary. Girls cannot be engineers.
This is the message we are sending. Perhaps not directly or blatantly – we don’t announce it or advertise it or even talk about it. But the message is there – it’s in our schools and on our T.V.s, it’s in the magazines we read and the news stories we hear, it’s in the things we buy and the way we live. We tell girls what they cannot be before they learn who they are – the only thing stopping girls from being engineers, is us.
Each year since 2012, NCUB has tracked the number of girls and women bravely ignoring this message by studying engineering and technology related subjects. The dashboard forms a part of Talent 2030, NCUB’s ambitious campaign to increase female talent in the engineering and manufacturing industries. From GCSE physics to qualified engineers, we monitor the number of women against targets for the year 2030. Unfortunately, this year’s statistics show that not only has little changed over the last 4 years, but that the proportions are actually projected to get worse. The report explains that if we continue at the current rate of progress, the Talent 2030 targets will be missed by a staggering 7000 A-Level students and 10,000 engineering and technology undergraduates.
What’s strange here is that we know from experience and from evidence that there is a lot of good work and great initiatives being introduced across the UK. The recent WISE awards highlighted this, and the rhetoric around girls in engineering or in STEM has never felt so empowering across the world. In fact over the last 30 years or so, millions of pounds have been invested in such programmes of work, yet the numbers have stubbornly stayed the same. This highlights a bigger problem, an issue more damaging than we may realise. For the numbers to be sticking despite work to address the problem, there must be a cultural issue, a deeply embedded one. Collectively we are teaching girls as young as 3 or 4 that they can’t be engineers, that they aren’t good enough.
So NCUB is introducing Talent 2030: Powering On, the next stage in our efforts to increase the proportion of female engineering and technology students. The programme will map all outreach from participating businesses and universities onto EngineeringUK’s digital heat map to provide a clear outreach map of the UK. This is will tell us what outreach is going on, and where. Together with a research programme that will destroy myths and increase insight, Powering On will determine which initiatives actually work. We can determine what will increase the number of women studying undergraduate engineering degrees. We can use this information to help move the needle and reach girls at the crucial ages where they determine their future.
So let’s not spend another 30 years trying and failing to change the numbers – let’s find out what works.
If you would like to hear more about Talent 2030 and Powering On, or you are interested in writing on a similar topic, please get in touch with Sarah Cowan, Project Officer for Talent.