“A Hot Topic These Days….”

The title for this post is a quote from the first sentence of a blog from Serious Engineering, which lead me to think that perhaps lots of people think it is a ‘new’ thing and a ‘problem’ that needs to be cured by changing the girls and women. Whilst not unique to the UK, this persistently low % of girls choosing engineering careers is a peculiarly cultural situation, which is mainly located in Western Europe and America, and other English-speaking countries.

It may surprise you to know that this situation is unknown in many countries. Countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Syria (before their civil war), Egypt, Brazil, and some African countries have high proportions, sometimes even equal numbers of women and men in engineering.

Because this ‘problem’ keeps coming to the attention of politicians and journalists (hardly any of either profession having any engineers in their numbers), I thought it would be worth sharing with you a timeline I produced for the Women’s Engineering Society when, a few years ago, the UK government thought to ask us for the umpteenth time why so few women were in senior engineering roles.

When you have scrolled your way down from 1905 to the present, ask yourself if perhaps all these efforts to ‘change’ the girls and women so they will choose engineering have in fact worked and whether perhaps it might be more useful to change EVERYONE’s attitude to engineering and engineers……


Initiatives and reports


National Association of Women Pharmacists established as first society for women working in science.


WW1 – women trained in technical skills.


Women’s Engineering Society (WES) established.


WES invited to give evidence to the Home Office Committee on “Women, Young Persons and Children Employment Bill


“Facilities for Training Women as Engineers “ published by WES. Individual careers advice to girls by WES. List of companies willing to accept girls


1st Annual Conference of WES.   1st WES Journal: The Woman Engineer


Electrical Association for Women established by Caroline Hasslett, MWES (Director 1924 – 1956). Paper on developing women’s interest in use of electricity in the home presented to the representatives from electrical engineering.


International Conference on “Women in Science, Industry nad Commerce” organised by WES in conjunction with British Empire Exhibition at Wembley

1928 -?

Campaign to repeal law against women working at night.


WES fought for an amendment to the Washington Convention of the International Labour Organisation


Publication of: 1) Women in Industry . Home Office White Paper. Published by the Stationery Office. (2) ‘fhe Report of the Departmental Committee. Home Office Factory Inspectorate. The Stationery Office. (3) Reports on Equal Pay for Equal Work . Published for the Labour Party.


Aeronautical Section of WES established


Relaxation of working conditions rules for women in managerial positions


WW2. Women trained in technical skills

1940 – 1945

Government scholarships for women in Maths, Engineering and Science. Training for women at technician and craft level. First “Sandwich” Courses set up by Verena Holmes.


WES Survey of Science Teaching.


First Amy Johnson Scholarship by WES in conjunction with Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS). British Women Pilots Association established. WES publishes “Engineering Training for Women“ by Verena Holmes and WES Careers Panel


WES members start giving talks at girls’ schools and many science mistresses and headmistresses join WES.


WES Conference “Careers for Girls in Engineering”


28th Conference of the British Commonwealth League on “Women in Science and Technology – Opportunities and Frustrations”, at which the only female speaker was WES President Madeleine Nobbs.


WES Survey of women leaving engineering on marriage


WES presence at Career Fairs since 1924 renewed in 60’s


InternationaI Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists ICWES supported by WES to this day


WES Report to Government through Council of Engineering Institutions (CEI) on “ Increasing number of Women Engineers and Technologists”. WES President invited to “Challenge of Modern Engineering” Conference (RS & CEI)


WES Survey of the “Conditions of Work of Professional Women Engineers (Madeleine Nobbs)


50th anniversary of WES and inauguration of “Women in Engineering Year” by Shirley Williams, Minister of Education and Science. 1st Verena Holmes Lecture presented by Dr, Elisabeth Laverick


Year of Women in Engineering (WiE) – Betty Laverick was Exec Sec at IEE at the time and a leading light in setting YWiE up..


WES/Department of Employment “Survey of the Employment of Women in the Engineering Industry”


National women’s liberation conference demands: abortion on demand, free contraceptives, equal pay, equal work & education opportunities, free 24/7 nurseries. Teachers told to give advice about SET careers to girls. ILEA’s standing committee on career opportunities for women and girls set up.


Girls and science education project launched.


Women And Manual Trades established to promote and support women in trades, currently funded by Trust for London and CITB-Constructionskills (1975-now).


A ‘sustained effort ‘ to encourage more girls to enter the engineering profession is called for by the British Association in its report on Education, engineers and manufacturing industry* and forms one of its main recommendations.


EITB scholarships, Girl Technician grants reach 800 women 1978-85. Following the introduction in 1978 of the successful competition to find the Girl Technician Engineer of the Year, the Caroline Haslett Memorial Trust and the Institution of Electrical & Electronics Technician Engineers decided to repeat the award in 1979.


Association for Science Education sets up Girls And Physical Sciences (GAPS) committee to support grass roots initiatives in individual schools. Advises single-sex teaching, curriculum reform and better careers advice. GIST lunched in Manchester. Insight programmes for 6th year girls start (1979-present). EITB’s Insight ’79: Girls at school who think that they might have an aptitude for engineering for a place on a one-week residential programme at Loughborough University this summer at the board’s expense . Finniston Report published on future of engineering profession.


YWCA research leads to GETWISE courses with many local day, evening and residential taster courses for girls by universities. Engineering Academy awards scheme for women. Starting in 1980, the EITB offered 50 undergraduate bursaries worth £1,500 each. A Women-only course in management held by the West Midlands Engineering Employers’ Association , with the backing of the Manpower Services Commission.


Girls/Gender And Science And Technology Association (GASAT) set up (1981-2004). Girls And Mathematics Association (GAMMA) set up. International Organisation for women in Mathematics. European women in mathematics. Girls and technology education (GATE) project launched supported by BP (!981-84). Women in Engineering Conference: Understanding British Industry organised a conference at Plymouth Polytechnic on 11th November. The Manpower Services Commission sponsored an OU Women in Technology scheme.


Cockroft report on careers guidance. RS/IoP report. DofEducn + Association of science Education curriculum review. WES Survey included questions about career breaks. National Organisation for Women’s Management Education set up. Manpower Services Commission Training Opportunities Scheme and Control Data ran a 4-week course on potential opportunities within the computer industry, for women under 35, who will be eligible for government grants. University of Strathclyde gets special government permission to run residential courses for girls only, to increase awareness and encourage engineering career choices. Norwich City College of Further and Higher Education given permission to run training courses for women in construction & engineering. Grants offered by the EITB to engineering firms who recruit girls for training ae technicians, over and above their already planned intake of technician traninees. Some 250 grants of £6000 were offered.


Girls IT project established in Croydon.


Women Into Science and Engineering Year – a nod to the 25th anniversary of WiE and led by WES members Karen Burt, Jo Kennedy and Barbara Stepehs with Beryl Platt then at EOC –


WISE launched wih 6 buses, scholarships, publicity campaign and exhibitions (1984-now), 2005 WISE Outlook for high-achieving girls, in 2012 it merged with UKRC


GEMSAT project established in Notts (1984-5)


Girls And Technical Engineering (GATE) programme for 5th year girls launched.


Women Into Computing set up (1984-2005). Women Returners ‘ Network (WRN) set up.


Womens training roadshows on non-traditional areas of wok, by LEAs, FE & HE (1985-7). Women’s Architecture Group (1985-99). Women in Physics group set up within Institute of Physics. WITS access course set up at Huddersfield Poly. Daphne Jackson Trust with fellowships for returners to SET , established (1985-now). Women into Science and Technology (WIST) returners course. GLC conference and film Women in Construction.


Univ Strathclyde 10-week Free Engineering Training Course for Women Returners, with £85 weekly stipend. SWITCH – Scottish Women Into the Computing Habit . WEST – campaign to get Women into Engineering Science and Technology. Engineering Council launched its Career Break Working Party report,


British Gas use GIST project findings to design girl-friendly publicity materials.


Cornwall women in engineering science and technology (CWEST) set up. 50% of English LEAs doing some action on gender equalities. Women in Property (WiP) set up


Optec ’87 4-day taster course for school girls, set up by EITB and Open Tech. Womens Technology and Enterprise Centre (WOTEC) set up in Tameside with ESF funding.


Esso Management Development Course for women. Women in Engineering Centre set up in London. Young Woman Engineer of the Year Award replaces “Girl technician of the year” Trent Poly Launches WISE Campaign.


Women in Astronomy group set up within the Royal Astronomical Society. “Women into IT” (WIT) campaign was launched and Women into Information Technology (WIT) Foundation set up by NEDO/DTI


Hansard Society report: “Women at the top”.


Women As Role Models (WARM) in construction, launched. Women Members Network set up wihin the Royal Society of Chemistry.


Women in Construction Alliance (WICA) set up.


OST report: Realising our potential


Rising Tide report. Girls Entering Tomorrow’s science engineering and technology (GETSET) launched, reaching about 2,000 girls per year (1994-2000). Association for Women in Science and Engineering (AWISE) set up (1994-2011), only Cambridge AWISE still running). DoI’s Promoting SET for Women Unit set up (1994-2004). Commission on University career opportunities report promoting diversity in HE.


WISET, Girls GETSET & Winning women projects set up by HEFCS in Scotland.


LET’sTWIST, JIVE + Wider Horizons launched, with awareness workshops for girls. WES Karen Burt Award for best newly qualified Chartered Engineer established.


Athena Project set up by DTI/OST, now the Athena SWAN scheme. IMAGE, by E-skills UK to change girls perception of ICT, leads to IT Beat project (1999-2005). Women in Architecture set up. WiSETI set up to support women at Cambridge. RESNet set up at UEA. 4 mentoring projects launched. OU establishes Associate Lecturers in science group (ALIS). European Commission DG Research sets up Women in Science section.


Digital Eve established (not in UK now). 5+ Local academic womens networks (LAWNS) running on short term grants from Athena. PSetW Unit – The Promoting Science, Engineering and Technology for Women Unit – part of the Office of Science and Technology in the DTI


BCSWomen set up within the British Computer Society. Equality Challenge Unity set up by Cabinet Office.


SET Fair report published. SET for Success report published reccommending support for women in SET and also that all HEIs should establish career paths for junior staff and PhDs. Computer Clubs For Girls (CC4G) set up online by E-skills UK and used by up to 2200 schools. National Association of Women in Construction established. Dahnet email list established by Imperial College and WES (2002- now). MentorSET established by WES (2002-12). Women in Plumbing set up by Institute of Plumbing and heating Engineering. Local Academic Women’s Networks (LAWNs) funded throughout UK by Athena project (2002-3).


JIVE Know Your Place scheme launched. EOC does research into gendered career choices. OU establishes Women in Technology Returners course.


B-Constructive CITB campaign for women, produced educational materials. UK resource centre for women in SET (UKRC) established with local hubs in Wales and Scotland and english regions, running courses (OU T160 returners coiurse) and other activities (2003-12 when it merged with WISE).


Scottish Resource centre for women in SET established, offering networking, mentoring and returners programmes 2005-now.


CITB + Construction Youth Trust launch Positive Images (women and BME) publicity campaign. Discover! STEM Saturday Clubs for girls in Wales (2006-2010+). Prometea: EU-wide collaborative study of retention & progression of women working in engineering research:


Supply of and demand for science graduates in Scotland report for Scottish Executive notes that women earn less in all fields and at all grades.


Women in science and engineering research project report commissioned by CSA &RSE for Scottish Government.


RAEng report “Inspiring women”


The UKRC Statistics Guide on Women in Science Engineering Technology and the Built Environment (SET) published:


United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) considered ‘Access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work’ as its priority theme during its fifty-fifth session in 2011


RSE report published “Tapping all our talents” on women in STEM


UK Govt Women in Technology and Engineering: A Call to Action


UK Govt Women into Technology and Engineering Compact scheme: £10 million for ‘Developing Women Engineers’ + £10 million for ‘Improving Engineering Careers’. UK Govt ‘Women in scientific careers’ Report .


ScotGov New Engineering Foundation


Engaging Girls at Big Bang Fairs
Inspiring Women Engineers
Safety Clothing
Voices Project by WES/RAEng http://www.wes.org.uk/content/voices
WES member clusters
WES HE Groups
WES e-newsletter
WES journal: Woman Engeineers
WES Student Conference (since 2007)
WES Annual Conference (since 1923)



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s