This week saw the release of the BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour – Power List topped by HM The Queen. From the engineering and energy fields two women in particular were highlighted for their contributions; Professor Dame Ann Dowling, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Cambridge and Dame Sue Ion, for her contribution to the nuclear industry. The aim of the list was to provide powerful female role models and inspiration for professional women.
Later this year the Women in Engineering Society (WES) will be focussing their annual event around the theme of energy. Harnessing the Energy will take place at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) in London on Friday 4 October 2013. While being mainly technical there will also be a parallel stream of professional development presentations aimed at encouraging women in engineering and retaining girls in STEM subjects and careers.
You’d think that in 2013 we wouldn’t need to still be discussing women in the energy and engineering fields yet women are still underrepresented, especially at higher levels within the industry. This was highlighted last year by the BBC who struggled to find female experts for the Today show willing to speak on air. As a response they initiated a media training day for female experts and received over 2000 applications for only 30 spaces. The reaction was overwhelming and they now have four further training dates in the pipeline.
The average age of women on the power list was 53 years old so I’ve got a little while before I can feel I’ve missed the boat. It is nice to have women recognised for their merits and hard work, even if there are still only a handful at the top in energy and engineering sectors.
I’m not sure how we encourage women and girls to continue in these fields but I don’t think that quotas are the right answer. If I ever get to board level I would never want to question whether I was there on merit or because of my gender. It’s also really difficult to talk about issues like these without just sounding like a ranty feminist which I think only serves to exclude people further from the discussion. That’s why I think initiative like the Women’s Hour Power List or Female Heroes from Lady Geek s can play an important role in inspiring not only the future generations but the women who are currently building their careers in these fields.