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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Where are our female scientists?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The following article by Meg is in the latest issue of Fabiana: the Fabian Women’s Network magazine.

 

Many businesses report that they struggle to recruit qualified staff in the science, technology and engineering sectors the very areas that we need to develop and grow if the UK is to remain one of the world’s top economies. To make the situation worse we have over 70% of female graduates of these very subjects not working in these fields. This situation threatens the UK’s chance of keeping pace with the rapidly growing leading-edge economies of the world.

 

With a minority of qualified women actually going on to work as scientists, technologists or engineers role models for young women considering a career are few. The Institute of Engineering and Technology’s 2012 skill survey found only 6% of professional engineers are women, and shockingly only 2% of engineering apprentices are female.

 

But we do not just want good women as role models, many women in engineering were inspired by engineering fathers. So while women role models are important, men who tell girls they can do these jobs and show them how are also important.

 

To help publicise this state of affairs I edited Unlocking Potential: perspectives on women in Science, Engineering & Technology; a collection of essays exploring what is holding girls and women back and what can be done. It was clear that from an early age girls and boys learn what are considered appropriate careers for their gender, and with few women working as engineers it’s no surprise that few girls decide to go there. Once a young person has set on a particular educational path it can be hard to change and complete a new set of subjects.

 

In Sheffield we have a role model who is simply inspiring, Ruth Amos aged 23 is already running her own company. She designed a product called the StairSteady as part of her GCSE Resistant Materials Course, to help people who have difficulty using the stairs but do not have the space or the money for a stair lift. It really took off when Ruth competed against thousands of applicants to win the Young Engineer for Britain 2006.

 

But encouraging girls and young women into these areas is not enough if the culture in the workplace doesn’t change. It’s hard to appreciate the scale of sexist remarks and outright bullying that some women experience at work. Sexist remarks aimed at young women that remain unchallenged by colleagues and managers can result in misery and the woman leaving.

 

We also need to tackle the work life balance that can hold women back.  Cathy Travers the most senior female engineer at Mott McDonalds told me that when her children were young she was able to work term time only, thus managing her family responsibilities while continuing her career. By being adaptable Mott McDonalds created loyalty which helped retain a talented and experienced female employee.

 

But isolated examples of good practise will not achieve the change we need. As a Sheffield MP, I am well aware of our region’s proud engineering and manufacturing heritage. We boast world-class universities and have a new University Technical College due to accept its first intake of students in 2013. We are in a good position to tackle the issue.

 

Over the past year I have met education and business leaders across the region with the aim of making South Yorkshire the first choice for female scientists, engineers and technologists. I’ve met many inspirational and highly motivated women and men who are working hard, leading innovative companies and exporting products around the world. We’ve discussed how we might work together to train and support girls and women.

 

Sheffield University’s engineering department has already acted by appointing a professor working 50% of her time on this issue. The University of Sheffield and Boeing’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre is focusing on recruiting more female apprentices led by engineer and training director Alison Bettac. The new University Technology College is working hard to fulfil its aim of 50% female admissions in its first year.  Sheffield Hallam University’s Women in Science Engineering and Technology team is providing advice and support on how to make this ambition a reality.

 

Many of the business leaders I’ve met are willing to investigate to see how they can make it happen. We know that bucking the trend won’t happen overnight, but the benefits of achieving change would be substantial for our region. Crucially it would begin to harness the skills and talent of girls and women who currently would never dream of the taking up a career in science, engineering and technology.

 

Unlocking Potential: perspectives on women in Science, Engineering & Technology can be read at: http://www.smith-institute.org.uk/file/Women%20in%20SET.pdf

 

Fabiana can be read at:

http://www.fabianwomen.co.uk/2013/02/women-and-work-redefining-the-rules-of-the-game/

 


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