Jobs for the boys?

I’ve done a lot of thinking over the past few weeks about women in the working world, so bear with me here. There’s been a recurring theme though lately, because where I’m from we’re getting a very big opportunity in this sector soon:Why do so few women get into engineering? And STEM subjects overall?

I love technology, enjoyed ‘CDT’ at school (Craft Design technology, or woodwork if you were at school a little before me!) and I like to solve problems… OK so there are certain levels of science and maths involved in it (of which I’m proficient, I work in Data now and have a hidden love of science and how things work) so essentially I should have considered it. But I didn’t. Even though I attended a school which had an engineering specialisation.

Do we gender specify careers in our head? Like in years gone by, do we still teach our children that women are nurses and administrators and boys are engineers? How is that fair when we’re in 2016?

Are girls really only good at English and boys the ones who excel in Maths and Science? I’d find lots of women who would disagree – if STEM is the future then women need a foothold in it, but we’ll only get there by nurturing this in our younger generations. My little girl loves bugs, mud, maths, figuring out how things work – she also loves dressing up and playing with dolls too. My son enjoys all those things too, he’s also caring, intelligent, kind and active so I wouldn’t ever tell him that he couldn’t be whatever he set his mind to – nurse, footballer, or astronaut. Why do we take that away from our girls? And at what point do they back away from getting their metaphorical hands dirty?!

The #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign of August 2015 started as a recruitment campaign but ended up as more of a campaign against gender stereotypes. Although it followed #DistractinglySexy after Nobel laureate Tim Hunt voiced that women are distracting in the lab in June of that year. But it brought to attention the fact that women can look however they wish and still be an engineer, scientist, mathematician without losing femininity (or without compromising themselves or others in the lab, thanks Mr Hunt).

I’m sure there are plenty of women and young girls who love design and problem solving and those team building tasks about building things out of paper, string, scissors and the kitchen sink… So why don’t they end up in engineering?

Women continue to be one of the most underrepresented demographics in engineering. The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, at less than 10% and only 6% of registered engineers and technicians (i.e. CEng, IEng, EngTech) are women. This is depressing and it certainly isn’t because we aren’t clever enough in this country – but why do more women not see engineering as an option for them? Especially when there is a shortage of engineers, there are apparent opportunities there and we aren’t encouraging young girls to seek them.

When we think of engineers, do we still see middle aged men in hard hats and high-vis jackets covered in muck? This isn’t what an engineer looks like anymore, there is so much new technology out there and so many solutions to find, designs to create and bridges to build (literally and figuratively!) that we should be keeping up with our global sisters – there are high proportions of female engineers in India, so we’re behind India in our perspective here, which astounds me.

Also consider this, it appears like a great career: in a survey of female engineers, 84% were either happy or extremely happy with their career choice and Engineering students are second only to medics in securing full-time jobs and earning good salaries. Statistics also say that diversity matters: companies are 15% more likely to perform better if they are gender diverse and in a global survey, 85% of corporate diversity and talent leaders agreed that “A diverse and inclusive workforce is crucial to encouraging different perspectives and ideas that drive innovation”.

Maybe the step change that is needed is our preconceptions and opinions, careers come from hard work, opportunities and intelligence – not your gender. Maybe women can rock a hard hat – maybe its not about the hat at all.

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The dirty, filthy and ‘unsexy’ F word…

Feminism… It gets a bad rep. Loads of Americans who didn’t understand what feminism meant started the ‘f**kfeminism’ trend this year by confusing it with male hate or slut shaming. The main thing we can do for ourselves and for the next generation is get our heads around what it is.
Feminism isn’t about not shaving your armpits and wearing frumpy clothes or not being allowed to wear heels, dresses and make up. It isn’t about hating men or being aggressive and it’s not about saying women are better than men. It IS about women having the same rights, opportunities and pay as men, without being judged or scrutinised or questioned for their choices within those rights and opportunities. It IS about having choice and it IS as important for men to be feminists as it is women. It’s also about being treated as a human being, women don’t ‘deserve’ to be raped and men don’t have a ‘right’ to have sex with any woman who doesn’t want to, even if that woman is his wife.
Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones wants to get rid of the word ‘feminism’ because she says everyone should be a feminist really, anyone who isn’t is just sexist. So making a point of saying you’re a feminist shouldn’t be a big deal but being against it is… I agree with the notion, but I still think we should actively be choosing to talk about women’s rights. I hear more about LGBT rights than women’s rights anymore… (Nothing but love for the LGBT community, just observing the universal conversation). You may think this is because women have so many rights, but until we can say that there are no ‘traditional roles’ or ‘glass ceilings’ or ‘gender pay gaps’ then the need for feminism and women’s rights to be a topic discussed is still there.

If Germaine Greer isn’t your idea of a role model for feminism there are plenty other examples… 

Look to Emma Watson, Lady Gaga, Caitlin Moran, Oprah, Ellen Page, Angelina Jolie, Lena Dunham, Malala Yousafzai or Justin Trudeau (seriously, Google the last one – Canadian Prime Minister, interesting man and proud feminist).

It’s not about loving every woman on the planet, that’s not human nature, we’re all different and have our own opinions on others… So you can see a fellow woman as annoying, verbose, superficial, flaky and that doesn’t work for you then feel free to not like her. However, don’t judge her because she doesn’t value your Louboutins or MAC makeup (I can’t justify spending hundreds on shoes when I have mouths to feed and I don’t agree with animal testing, but not bothered if these are ‘your thing’) and don’t judge her if she chooses to look pretty or have tattoos or piercings or flat shoes. It’s about looking at who a person is not what they look like/wear and it’s more about who she is attempting to be rather than her eyebrows being on fleek.

Sadly, our first female leader in the UK wasn’t a feminist, she didn’t even care too much about being a woman. Margaret Thatcher had an opportunity to raise up other women and pitifully she smashed the glass ceiling and then pulled the ladder up after her. In 11 years, she promoted 1 woman in cabinet – proving that successful women don’t define feminism, but a woman’s attitude to other women does. Eva Peron did more for feminism than Magaret, as did figures who weren’t specifically political like Maya Angelou and Diane von Furstenburg. Thankfully in the town I’m from we have two female leaders, a female elected Mayor and a female Chief Exec at the council (Jo Miller, another name to google). I’ve met them both (often in the lifts at work) and they are warm and friendly people, who happen to have created success in areas that used to be dominated by men. I doubt they would see other successful women as a threat and I’m sure they’re happy to encourage women who perform well in the workplace. These are the kinds of women who will inspire and these are good everyday examples of feminism.

Feminism is not prescriptive, it’s about being who you want to be – if you want to wear sexy clothes then do! If you wish to dance your ass off in a way only Beyonce would understand then please, go ahead! You shouldn’t then be open to ridicule, judgement, criticism or unwanted attention because of it. So feminism can be sexy, if sexy is want you want to be.
Cos we all know the answer to the question Queen Bey asks… Who run the world?