The career I have chosen has a branding issue. Increasingly, I've found people can't identify with what I do, despite the products of my profession's work being all around them. I am frequently confronted by quizzical looks as I tell people: I'm an Engineer!
Sadly, that I'm a woman and an engineer often causes them even more confusion . It is perceived as a man's job, which was highlighted last week by a tweet from a young girl to Emma Watson, saying: "@EmWatson my dad says I can't be a engineer 'cause it's a "men profession" what do I do to change that? #Heforshe @HeforShe #Davos"
It's clear that engineering's brand is holding our profession back and could be putting off the brightest young minds from joining us, man or woman. Our poor image is based on the misconceptions people have of what an engineer does and how they should look. In order to create a fresh and attractive brand for engineers, effective communication by the industry and media is key. Therefore I am setting out a five-point plan that I believe can encourage young people into engineering.
1. An open mind about educational backgrounds
Keeping an open mind about different educational backgrounds is critical as the industry comprises mainly of those with an engineering degree and that is limiting. My physics degree was just as relevant in providing me with mathematical and problem solving skills as an undergraduate engineering degree. I was fortunate that this was readily recognised by Imperial College and then by WSP. How many more engineers could we produce if we communicated to scientists and mathematicians that engineering is a viable career option?
2. Addressing unconscious bias
We need to keep a close eye on how we market our industry and the opportunities within it. There are studies that show men will apply for a job if they believe they fulfil 60% of the criteria whilst women will only do so when they hit 100%. There isn't just one right way to be a successful engineer, we can be technical specialists, managers of teams, business development leaders and many others. If senior engineers in an institution or company are not particularly diverse, you can end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy where new entrants will be from a similar background and engineers will continue to be a largely homogeneous group.
3. Communicating that engineering is creative
Young students should be shown why science and maths are creative, rewarding and fun. We must speak to teachers, careers advisers and parents about how science and maths enables every good idea to become a reality. Take the iPhone as an example. This was once just a theory of the great Steve Jobs, but became a reality through the ingenuity of engineers and scientists using maths and science. Parents have a big influence on their children's career choices. Engineering UK's 2015 report found 12% of parents would be happy for their son to become an engineer, while only 2% said the same about their daughter. Our engineering institutions and businesses need to raise the profile of their engineers and dispel common myths so students increasingly consider technical careers.
4. Supporting students
Once we've caught their attention, let us offer work placements and internships so that students can see first-hand the working life of engineers. What better way to experience how engineers work in teams, brain storming ideas and solving problems. We should mentor them throughout their careers. Where role models for minorities are scarce, it is even more important that this support is maintained.
5. Using the media
We need more TV shows, blogs, features, interviews, tweets, YouTube videos - you name it we need it! We need to be on every channel combating stereotypes. We need visible engineering role models to whom our children can aspire. A couple of years ago I was part of a short slot on a documentary- The Tallest Tower on Channel 4 about The Shard- which I considered a unique and one-off opportunity. I've been amazed at the interest level that followed my appearance, people are genuinely interested in a topic which they previously had very little exposure to. We need to build on this.
So, there it is, I have set out my ideas; my five ways for effecting change. I realise there are fantastic examples of where this is already taking place, not least through the Queen Elizabeth Prize's thirteen donor companies, who work hard to inspire the next generation of inventors and engineers to solve our future problems, but also the countless teachers and mentors who are doing excellent work. However, if recent statistics are anything to go by, there is always more to be done!