SL Controls is proud to support this year’s International Women’s Day theme, Embrace Equity. It’s an especially important message to get across in engineering as the sector seeks to attract more women.
The International Women’s Day theme of Embrace Equity is about going beyond equality, where equality is the goal rather than the approach. After all, an equal approach doesn’t take into account an individual’s personal circumstances. That is achieved through equity, where resources, support, and opportunities are tailored to the individual.
Equity in Engineering
Shauna Ryan, People and Culture Director at SL Controls, said:
“The Embrace Equity message is very powerful and it’s one we should all be aware of. At SL Controls, we support equity both in theory and practice, as we work hard to treat everyone as an individual.
“Looking more broadly at the engineering sector as a whole, it is clear there is a problem. Even with the best management, recruitment, and HR practices, it remains incredibly difficult to recruit female engineers. The sector has known it for years, but the needle hasn’t really budged on the issue.
“It’s something we are acutely aware of here at SL Controls. For example, we proactively seek applications from females for the engineering vacancies we advertise. We do this using a variety of strategies, but we always receive more applications from men than women. We also know there are fewer women qualifying as engineers than men because fewer women are enrolling on engineering courses.”
What the Figures Tell Us
Official figures back up Shauna’s comments:
- In March 2022, Engineers Ireland reported figures from the Higher Education Authority that indicated 23 percent of engineering graduates were female.
- Across Europe, only 34 percent of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) graduates were female.
- In the UK, just 18 percent of engineering and technology students are female.
How to Get More Female Engineers
The question of how to get more women into engineering is one that industry, the education sector, and governments have grappled with for many years. To contribute to the discussion, we recently ran a poll on our LinkedIn page asking what can be done to get more girls and young women interested in engineering. We offered four options:
- Option 1 – Increased levels of Government-led and industry-supported formal and informal STEM education in primary schools.
- Option 2 – Increase the promotion of STEM careers in secondary schools, with a particular emphasis on female students.
- Option 3 – Employers adopting more flexible and equitable work patterns.
- Option 4 – Campaign to change gender perceptions of engineering, focusing mainly on parents, teachers, and career guidance counsellors.
Promoting engineering in secondary school was the most popular option, followed closely by formal and informal education in primary schools.
“The result of this poll is very interesting, and it confirms something we have believed in at SL Controls for a long time. That is the fact you need to introduce young people, including girls, to engineering at a young age. The aim should be to spark their curiosity and get them thinking that engineering is something they could consider.
“This is why we are involved in the STEAM initiative. We have done two so far, one in Sligo and one in Limerick, where two of our engineers go into a primary school class once a week for 10 weeks to do fun and engaging engineering-related activities.”
The school in Limerick where SL Controls engineers Oonagh Wynne and Gary Collopy delivered the STEAM engineering education programme was Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh in Roxborough. It was a 4th class, and its teacher is Ceiline O’Meara.
“From a big class of 32, with only nine girls, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the girls responded to engineering over the past 10 weeks. It has inspired the girls in my class to be creative, and it has given them confidence to choose engineering as a career in the future.
“It is hard to believe that women only represent 13% of engineers. Many girls, and in particular, in primary school don’t get access to engineering. However, we here in Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh were fortunate enough to get this opportunity and it was a huge success amongst the class, but particularly with the girls.
“Learning engineering from a young age can help to build skills in lots of other subjects, such as science and maths. Not only this, but engineering can help children to understand real world technologies and problems, thus allowing them to make connections with the wider- world.
“Over the past 10 weeks, the children in my class engaged in different projects and activities. These projects were hands on, fun, and encouraged the children to use their creativity and imagination. The children looked forward to their lesson each week and thoroughly enjoyed learning new skills.”
According to Shauna, it is important that more children, including young girls, get similar opportunities to the 4th class in Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh:
“The reaction you get from the children is amazing, so the more we can do things like this at all levels of industry, the education sector, and society as a whole, the better.”