On June 23rd, I attended a celebration of the first National Women in Engineering Day. About sixty of us gathered together to visit Concorde at Manchester airport. This was a fantastic visit which we all enjoyed. We then had a networking event and a range of talks from inspirational women engineers. One well known senior engineer had a rather unusual career path. Her undergraduate degree was in Physics, she told us but she subsequently went ‘to the dark side’ and now works in Engineering.
This comment made me think about our use of language to describe Science and Engineering and how this affects career choices of young people. Walking on the dark side is only part of the story. If you are a girl choosing engineering you will probably be asked at some stage for reassurance that you ‘don’t mind getting your hands dirty’. Is Dirty and dark appealing as a career choice? Could these misrepresentations of engineering be part of the reason that the representation of women in engineering is still so low? How can we change perceptions and shed some light on the subject, so that young girls get more encouragement to enter the engineering profession?
In teenage years, when young girls are so concerned about how they are perceived, subtle hints and language used is very powerful. This powerful video advert by Verizon emphasises how subtle messages can have a powerful cumulative effect to discourage young girls from their interest in science technology and engineering.
As engineers, we need to step out from the darkness and shed light on our profession by communicating more what we do. How we take the discoveries of ‘pure science’ and maths and implement them to give benefits in the real world. Although we are ‘hands on’ and practically minded, professional engineers rarely have dirty hands. Engineers are ‘do-ers’ and ‘makers’, planners and shapers. So, if you are thinking of a career in engineering, Don’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty. In fact, don’t be afraid of anything…it’s fun on the dark side 🙂