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.