Let’s think about the bigger picture this International Women’s Day


International Women's DayDr Jill Miscandlon gives a personal view on the gender issues facing the science, technology, engineering and manufacturing sectors

Driving towards a balanced workforce is the focus of this year’s International Women’s Day, and for the engineering and manufacturing industry, the theme reflects the current STEM movement to encourage not just young females, but all young people to think about a career within the sector.

There is a constant push for increasing the number of females in senior positions, and while yes of course there should be, for engineering and manufacturing it’s not always possible within an immediate time frame.

Obviously we want females in leading roles, and I think in a few more years we will see that, but what is important now is that we’re encouraging all young people to think about a career in manufacturing and are striving to meet that #BalanceforBetter goal through our intake of the next generation of engineers.

International Women's Day
When Dr Miscandlon was at school, engineering was not suggested as a career path, and she took a PhD in maths

What we need are leaders who listen to a younger voice and are open to new ways of doing things. Managers that will allow younger staff, whether male or female, to shape strategy, think outside the box, and develop new solutions to improve the way we manufacture.

In my experience, the answer to ‘Why do we do it like that?’ is far too often, ‘because that’s how it’s always been done’. We need to be more innovative in our approach, and I think that young people can help with that change as they see things in a more flexible way.

Our recent intake of interns at the AFRC was roughly 50/50 in terms of gender. We have a lot more female technicians than when I started, and it’s definitely becoming more balanced – 40% of the staff at the centre are under 35 and half of them are female.

STEM work is making an impact and it’s changing the culture. It’s showing young people that science, tech and engineering isn’t a man’s world. When I was at school it wasn’t even suggested that engineering was an option and I went on to do a PhD in mathematics.

Now, there is a huge drive to get children thinking about STEM subjects, while encouraging them to follow a career path they enjoy, no matter their gender.

AFRC bridges a gap between industry and academia, collaborating with large companies and SMEs to help innovate technologies. As a technical lead on major projects from electrical propulsion  for the aerospace industry to fuel tanks for space crafts, I get to do some really fun and interesting things – this isn’t always portrayed to young people.

I was only at the centre for a year before I started working on flow forming so it was a massive learning curve getting the machines, installing them and working with customers using the process. Now, we are using flow forming for major projects for global companies and we’re making really big gains in this area. I’ve grown my knowledge along the way while developing the capability within the centre and use my flow forming expertise to advise a number of customers from a variety of industries.

It’s important that we make a point of showcasing the career opportunities from a young age and highlight the varied nature of the role.

As a centre of excellence in innovative manufacturing technologies, R&D, and metal forming and forging research, we collaborate with all types of organisations

When the push for STEM pays off and we get more young people into the industry it’s important that we support their growth, give them opportunities to progress and above all listen to what they have to say. We can learn from a new approach, and manufacture in a more efficient way from new ideas.

In my experience, obstacles come from age more than anything else. Young engineers often know what they’re talking about, the key is finding your voice to stand up and be heard among more dominant personalities.

I think we’re on the right track to reach a workforce that is balanced. A focus on STEM seems to be making an impact but we need more.

Rather than work solely towards getting women on the board, let’s look at the bigger picture and look at the interns, apprentices and graduates who are coming through the doors. Let’s give young people, male and female, the space to succeed within the industry. And maybe then, we can create a workforce that is balanced for the better.

Dr Jill Miscandlon is a senior manufacturing engineer at the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre