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Can women help sustain a thriving environmental services sector?

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Estelle Rowe, director of diversity programmes for education charity EDT, makes the case for inspiring women into environmental engineering.

The National Women in Engineering Day (NWED) will take place on 23 June - a brilliant initiative introduced by the Women’s Engineering Society to celebrate women engineers and inspire a new generation of women into engineering as a career. With the number of women in professional engineering jobs languishing at around 8% in the UK, a proportion which is proving very hard to shift, it is important that all branches of engineering ensure that they are engaged with such initiatives, environmental services being no exception. 

Why is National Women in Engineering Day important?

Why is it important to engage with NWED? Well, very simply for all the reasons that it is bad news that the proportion of women in engineering is down at 8%. Quite apart from the important issues of diversity and equal opportunity, a main point for the UK economy is that our engineering companies are facing a major skills crisis both now and in the future. There are simply not enough skilled engineers to fill the jobs that will come available as older engineers end their careers and as opportunities for engineering industry growth present themselves. As a candidate you may well think this is a good thing, as it will make the environmental engineering expertise you possess at more of a premium, but the overall picture is much more complex than that. 

If international companies currently based in the UK discover that there is a major resource problem in the UK, they will choose to base their main activities elsewhere, utilising skills pools that other countries are developing much more successfully than the UK. This means that new technology development and innovation activity will move away from the UK, with clustering taking place in those countries that can provide sufficient expertise. Women represent half the potential workforce in the UK. The fact that so few are in engineering professions means that a major part of the potential workforce is not considering engineering careers and the resultant skills gap, leading to an exodus of leading companies from the UK, is hard to avoid.

How NWED celebrates women engineers

The idea behind National Women in Engineering Day is to encourage all groups (Governmental, educational, corporate, professional engineering institutions, individuals and other organisations) to organise their own events in support of the day. This is only the second NWED but the result of the vision has been to establish a really wide range of activities across the country, with the goal of inspiring women into engineering careers. My own organisation, EDT, runs events on NWED and also throughout the year which aim to catch young people while they are still at school, to let them see what a great career engineering can offer. This is particularly true in the environmental sector where the public benefit claims of engineering careers can perhaps be more clearly seen to inspire young people.

In particular, exposure to women engineers can be very inspiring for young women as their preconceptions are challenged by role models they have the opportunity to meet and to work with. EDT is particularly encouraging female engineers to become role models through our #FERM campaign where each month we nominate a Female Engineer Role Model (FERM) with a blog on our website and spreading the word through social media.

Why, whether you are a man or a woman, NWED could be good for your career

The type of activity that takes place on NWED, and for EDT programmes throughout the year, requires the commitment of existing engineering companies and individuals to be mentors to the young people involved.

Whatever stage you are at in your engineering career, but particularly if you are early career, getting involved in this type of activity will not only help your profession but it is also good for your CV – many early career engineers find working on EDT programmes contributes to their Chartered Engineer status and gets them noticed by senior management. It also enables you to practise those communication and presentation skills that make you stand out from the crowd, as one Chief Executive said, “If you can communicate with a group of 13 year-olds, a Board presentation is simple!”

It might be too late to get involved in NWED this year but find out if your own company works with schools through EDT or other organisations and get involved. If your company is not active in this way, see if they can be encouraged to be so, or if this isn’t possible see if there are ways you can get involved in programmes on a personal basis.

To find out more about NWED visit www.nwed.org.uk and to find out about the wide range of EDT’s programmes visit www.etrust.org.uk 

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