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Rules of engagement

Congratulations to Michelle McDowell, winner of this year’s Veuve Clicquot businesswoman of the year and, significantly, a civil engineer.

That this prestigious award has gone to an engineer is great news for a sector that’s working hard on boosting its profile and McDowell’s achievement will help address the damaging perception that the upper reaches of the profession are closed off to women.

Nevertheless, the fact that it’s considered notable that the award has gone to an engineer plus McDowell’s own comments on her hopes that she will inspire more women to enter a male-dominated profession serve as a reminder of the engagement issues faced by the sector.

Currently, just 7 per cent of the UK’s engineers are women and an even smaller percentage have risen to the top of the profession. And though recent years have seen an increase in the numbers of women studying STEM subjects the sector still lags behind most others.

And this is just one aspect  of the wider perception problem.

Earlier this week, addressing an audience at Imperial College London, Moshe Kam - president and CEO of the IEEE - added his voice to the growing debate on the profile of engineers.

Calling for a global effort to educate youngsters, parents and teachers on the vital role played by engineering Kam said that  industry isn’t doing enough to promote the idea that engineering is a fundamentally noble profession.

Over the coming years Kam believes engineers will play an ever more crucial role in addressing some of the biggest challenges faced by humanity - whether developing new cleaner forms energy-generation, or helping to drive  advances in the life-sciences sector. Get the message across that engineering is about saving lives rather than building bombs, he told The Engineer, and a new generation of idealistic, ethical engineers will embrace the profession with the enthusiasm that it deserves.

Readers' comments (8)

  • I wholeheartedly agree that the image of engineering has to change if more women are to participate. We need to get engineers of both genders involved in schools and challenging stereotypes. I visit schools and participate in larger events as an engineer and a STEM Ambassador and without exception the first question "What is an Engineer?" gets images of greasy men in boiler suits. Younger participants seldom see women as able to be engineers. Secondary school is too late for many though, as peer pressure to conform and the need to chose subjects earlier can limit choices. Primary school children are a wonderfully receptive audience to engineering games and principles - we all have a responsibility to be involved.

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  • Sadly and all too often, brilliant engineering achievements are simply taken for granted and don't feature in the general media. We have also lost some of the inqusitiveness that made our country such a hot-bed for innovation and must do more to enthuse and inspire our sucessors if we are to remain a leading economic power. Being a great engineer is good, but we need role models that students can look up to and our engineering sector needs to back organisations that work with schools to promote the excitement of a career in this very rewarding and challenging area. I am proud to be the CEO of Young Engineers and to have a great relationship with organisations such as Smallpiece Trust, Primary Engineer and the EDT who all work hard to engage our future engineers.....

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  • You only have to see TV reporting to get an idea how manufacturing is perceived.
    Last night's clip showed a factory setting that belonged to the 50's not a Modern facility that you would see in places like Rolls and BAe

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  • Interested readers may also like to view the 2009 article 'The Evolving Role of Women in Engineering' by Susan Mucha. I don't believe much has changed between then & now!

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  • I have to agree with this article. I have worked as an engineer at my plant for 10 years and if people ask what I do, engineer is never offered as a possibility. The interns I have mentored really have had a hard time with perception during their job interviews-some even questioning their dedication to their engineering profession-as if 4 years of engineering school isn't enough indication of your interest!

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  • Take a look at
    if you have a spare minute or two. This initiative starts in the primary schools and into secondary. All children, boys and girls, are involved.

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  • How is it that the name "engineer" denotes anyone who picks up a spanner or does a technical drawing. The profession of engineering needs to take more ownership of our title. You're not allowed to promote yourself as an "accountant" unless you have the proper credentials, yet anybody can class themselves as an engineer. No disrespect meant to those talented individuals who have never had the opportunity to obtain a degree, but I think the marketing of our profession needs to start with some ownership of it's image.

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  • I think accountants have the same problems that we engineers have, in that anyone can use the title. The distinguishing mark of quality is, in both cases, being chartered.

    However, I too would be very happy to see Engineers in the UK accorded the same status as in some other countries: equal to, or higher than, doctors and lawyers.

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