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Topic Title: Young Woman Engineer of the Year award - end the gender discrimination
Topic Summary: Starting a campaign to abolish Young Woman Engineer of the Year or replace it with a non-discriminatory equivalent
Created On: 01 June 2012 12:05 AM
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 01 June 2012 12:05 AM
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z315870

Posts: 65
Joined: 30 May 2003

Why is it that I am barred from an IET prize for engineering achievement, purely because of my Y chromosome?

I find this offensive, sexist and discriminatory.

I asked three female colleagues what they thought of this award recently, and before I could even explain why I had asked their opinion, they condemned it as discriminatory and asked where the Young Male Engineer of the Year award was.

I believe that this prize (worth £1000 plus a great deal of publicity) has no place in an institution that prides itself on its inclusivity and diversity. We should not be sending a message that women need special help or assistance to enter engineering or stay in the industry. We should be sending the message that all people are welcome in the industry, as long as they can do the job. There's no reason why women should be any less capable than men, as long as they have the right skills and knowledge, so gender isn't an issue.

Would it be OK to have a Young Black Engineer of the Year award? How about a Young Transgender Engineer of the Year? Young Deaf Engineer of the Year? How far should we patronise those who are in some kind of minority before people realise it's ridiculous?

Engineers are supposed to be known for their common sense and pragmatism. We shouldn't care who our people are as long as they deliver the goods - and our recognition of excellence in the profession should reflect our open nature.

I call for this award to be abolished.

-------------------------
Dr Joe Silmon PhD MEng CEng MIET
Committee Member, Railway TPN
 03 June 2012 05:32 PM
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amillar

Posts: 1918
Joined: 28 May 2002

Why is there still a perception that without a Y chromosome you cannot be an engineer?

Having carried out a considerable amount of voluntary work (on behalf of the IET and others) to promote engineering as a career in schools and universities, it is very clear that there is still a huge perception that only men are "real" engineers. The worst case I came across recently was the female ex-engineer turned DT teacher who was faced with amazement from her class when she started leading them into the workshops: "but Miss: are you allowed in there?"

Everyone I meet working in education (male or female) gives me the same story: we need more publicity for role models to show aspiring students that women ARE capable of becoming first rate engineers, and to get over the "Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps" stereotypes.

I call for this award to be publicised for more widely.

-------------------------
Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

http://www.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert

Edited: 03 June 2012 at 05:53 PM by amillar
 03 June 2012 09:12 PM
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westonpa

Posts: 1771
Joined: 10 October 2007

Originally posted by: amillar
Having carried out a considerable amount of voluntary work (on behalf of the IET and others) to promote engineering as a career in schools and universities, it is very clear that there is still a huge perception that only men are "real" engineers. The worst case I came across recently was the female ex-engineer turned DT teacher who was faced with amazement from her class when she started leading them into the workshops: "but Miss: are you allowed in there?"

Well if a question like that is the 'worst case' you have come accross then there cannot be too much wrong in the world and I do not see the big issue. If a male teacher had been asked the same question no one would have even thought twice about it. I am sure the 'teacher' was more than capable of providing the appropriate response as do all the 'male' engineers when they get the odd negative comment about some thing or another.

Women are more than capable of doing the things they want in life, in my experience.

Regards.
 03 June 2012 09:57 PM
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z315870

Posts: 65
Joined: 30 May 2003

we need more publicity for role models to show aspiring students that women ARE capable of becoming first rate engineers


No, we don't. We need more publicity for role models showing ALL young people that engineering is an exciting and rewarding career path in an industry that doesn't discriminate on any grounds other than whether you can do the job.

My anecdotal evidence completely contradicts yours, Andy - the women I know in the industry think this award is sending the wrong message. Whatever historical prejudices exist are not something we can change as an industry body - what we should be doing is putting forward a positive image that appeals to both genders, not a one-sided approach that places women on a pedestal for honouring us crusty blokes with their presence in our hallowed drawing offices.

The right message is "whoever you are, you are welcome in this industry if you have the right skills". The over-riding need is for us to recruit more engineers - it doesn't matter if they are women or not. We should pick the best engineers, nothing more, nothing less.

What I have a problem with is that the award is monetary and nominally for engineering, not for being a role model.

I have been to schools to talk to the students before, and will again, and I do this voluntarily with no thought of rewards or prizes because it's the right thing to do. I also address the issue of gender balance by acknowledging that there are currently more men than women in the industry, but that it is historical and there's no reason why it should stay that way.

If women engineers truly believe that there is a problem that needs to be solved by them raising their own profile with young people then I am sure they will take it upon themselves to go into schools as I have done and present to the kids. One prizewinning showpony (who, this year, is an Army officer - so not likely to have a lot of free time for volunteering) is not going to get round that many schools. And why does she deserve a £1000 prize for doing what many of us already do for nothing more than satisfaction?

When I joined Bombardier as a graduate I was one of a group of eight engineers, three of whom are women; I now work on a team where three out of the five engineers are women. I have encountered numerous highly-qualifed and capable women throughout my admittedly short career and I expect to see more of them in the future.

-------------------------
Dr Joe Silmon PhD MEng CEng MIET
Committee Member, Railway TPN
 10 June 2012 04:23 PM
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Laurieann989

Posts: 5
Joined: 19 September 2011

Regarding Dr Joe Silmon's comment calling this years YWE winner Charlotte as a show pony, and saying she obviously does not have time to carry out voluntary work. Dr Silmon I would advise you to carry out your research prior to posting comments on people you obvious do not know and the work that they carry out. Charlotte (young woman engineer of the year), Natasha ( special recognition) and myself (Mary George memorial prize winner) have been involved in a lot of media campaigns and school events promoting STEM subjects, apprenticeships and engineering. And yes we have been able to be involved in more events due to the higher publicity we gained. Personally I have been promoting these cases since the second year of my apprenticeship, so we do and have 'taken it on ourselves to go into schools...'

I can understand some of the previous posts that men are excluded from this award but there are other awards run by the IET that men can be nominated for.

Regarding the post from Andy Millar I strongly agree that the major issues we come across are defeating the stereotypical views.

Personally the reason I started promoting engineering, STEM subjects and apprenticeships is my love for the sector and yes I do my best to promote the sector to women because there is such a huge difference in numbers, and some of the comments in previous posts appear to highlight some of the issues women have in joining the engineering sector.

The IET YWE awards promote women in engineering, they should be praised and gain much more coverage than they do currently. The work the IET carries out to promote women in engineering is highly important in trying to bridge the difference between the numbers of men and women in engineering.

Regards

Laurie-Ann Benner TMIET
Mary George Memorial Prize Winner 2011
 10 June 2012 08:09 PM
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StewartTaylor

Posts: 99
Joined: 18 January 2003

Laurie-Ann

I presume you'd agree that in due course this award should be scrapped because it will become obsolete. I already work in company where in some of the disciplines women outnumber men and our company chief engineer is a woman (and we have about 1200 engineers (not total staff)).

Once the numbers come to something approaching equality it becomes nonsensical to have such an award unless there's a corresponding men-only one. Even then, it wouldn't be good to have separate awards because in virtually every competitive environment where the sexes are segregated the assumption (right or wrong) is that the women wouldn't have any chance of winning in a mixed competition.

By the way, I think you'll probably find that most ethnic minorities are under-represented in engineering but I don't think we're likely to see a 'Young Black Engineer of the Year' award. I wonder why not?

Actually, I do think it's rather a shame that there isn't an 'Engineer of the Year' award. It's a simple concept that all the public could understand and could probably be turned into a lot more publicity than most of existing awards. It's also likely that such a competition, with a decent profile, could turn up some really exciting achievements to help 'sell' the engineering profession.

-------------------------
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
 10 June 2012 08:29 PM
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z315870

Posts: 65
Joined: 30 May 2003

Laurie-Ann, I didn't mean to make a personal attack on any prizewinner, I am against the prize in its current form and title, not the good work done by the individuals who happen to have won it. The phrase "showpony" is maybe a bit emotive, sorry about that, what I was trying to point out is that it seems a bit unfair to single out a handful of individuals when many hundreds more (some of them ineligible for this award) are also trying hard to get more engineers of every shape, size and colour into the industry.

Let's not forget that a female engineer of a certain capability will deliver the same value as a male engineer of the same capability. Gender shouldn't be a big issue in this industry.

I'm not taking this stance out of some misogynistic attitude but rather because I genuinely think it's the wrong way to even out the demographics of our industry.

Let's compare ourselves for a moment with a sector where there are far more women than men: primary school teaching. Do you think it would be OK to have a "Young Male Primary School Teacher of the Year" award? I don't. A male primary school teacher is no more special than a female primary school teacher. They both do great work and both deserve a chance to win publicity and prizes for it, if their work is excellent.

I guess my point is that by putting lots of emphasis and attention onto gender, we make a bigger issue out of it than existed in the first place, and I don't think that helps to reassure young women thinking of entering the industry that we've got past the 1950s.

In an era where we are desperately short of suitable people, it makes no sense to me to start targetting our recruitment/awareness efforts on any one demographic group - we should be hitting everyone with an equal measure of "look how cool it is to be an engineer or technician". And another measure of "anybody who has the skills/aptitudes can be an engineer or technician".

I'd like to think that when I go to talk to students in schools, the young women listening are not put off by the fact it's a man talking to them. In fact, I resent the implication (of this award) that only a female role model will serve adequately to encourage young women to consider a career here.

Whether or not the award continues (and it seems that the body of opinion is that it should, both in this discussion and a previous one I initiated some time ago), one thing is clear: it shouldn't be left to women engineers to try to promote the cause of better demographic balance. Why not? Because there are (currently) fewer of you than there are of us men. We should all be making the effort, not just the women!

So, Laurie-Ann, I would genuinely appreciate your thoughts on how to give a balanced message (equal appeal across all genders, races etc) when I go into a school to talk to the students. How can the white man giving the talk win over the whole of the audience?

Currently my approach is as I stated previously - I say that there are currently more men than women, but that the industry is very strongly open to all.

Do you think that there needs to be some specific content that is designed to appeal to the female members of the audience? Is there something I need to do, show or say to back up my message? As I said before, I will never target my effort at one group more than another, but if I need to change something to make sure that my message has an equal chance of reaching everybody, then I will do that.

Gender balance is not the only demographic anomaly we have in engineering. I'm pretty sure when looking around my office that certain ethnic groups are also under-represented. Should we start having a special award for people of different races too? I don't think so - maybe you disagree. But if you do, why is it OK to do this for a particular gender?

-------------------------
Dr Joe Silmon PhD MEng CEng MIET
Committee Member, Railway TPN
 10 June 2012 08:33 PM
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z315870

Posts: 65
Joined: 30 May 2003

Stewart I agree entirely with your post!

My whole argument is that I think we've reached the point you describe already where we don't need this award any more.

Gender discrimination is outlawed (except in the matter of parental leave, where women continue to enjoy vastly superior rights to men) and so young women can expect to get fair treatment in all workplaces, including engineering.

-------------------------
Dr Joe Silmon PhD MEng CEng MIET
Committee Member, Railway TPN
 11 June 2012 10:19 AM
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hamishbell

Posts: 287
Joined: 11 September 2001

If you think that about 10% is the right level for female engineers, then scrap the award. Your reference to primary school teachers is also faulty. Only one in four primary schools has a male teacher and overall there are only about 2percent male teachers. Efforts are being made to increase this ratio and encourage more participants. Is this wrong?

We are not talking about "discrimination" here, a negative term; positive encouragement is the phrase. Role models are important - why did you bother to become an engineer?

Regards
Hamish

-------------------------
Hamish V Bell, BSc, CEng, FIET, FCQI, CQP
2007 - 2010, Vice President and Trustee
 11 June 2012 12:03 PM
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rhysphillips

Posts: 71
Joined: 01 April 2010

Joe,

I am sort of in two minds about this award. Initial feelings are why have a separate one. The argument of "there are other awards run by the IET that men can be nominated for" put forward by Laurie-Ann does not hold up as women are also eligible for those same awards.

However the comment about gender discrimination is not really relevant here - we are not talking about women who become engineers and are then discriminated against in terms of the way they are treated at work or being paid less to do the same job etc. We are talking about getting them interested in engineering in the first place.

We all accept that there isn't a strong gender balance in engineering and this is partly due to a perception that it is a man's job. If these awards can help change that perception then perhaps they are a good thing. I would agree though that they should end once that balance has been restored.

As for being worthy of the prize itself, many of us spend time volunteering, some do more than others for whatever reason it may be (amount of time they can commit, enthusiasm to do it etc.). But like all prizes, not everyone can win. There will always be others doing equally good things elsewhere but that's just how awards work. I am sure that there are many singers who feel that they are doing better work than Adele in the music field (and who actually ARE creating better music) but it is still her who keeps scooping the awards.

Rhys
 11 June 2012 10:03 PM
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z315870

Posts: 65
Joined: 30 May 2003

Well, Hamish, your stats are referring to engineering as a whole (i.e. the whole age range), not to intakes over the past few years. I am pretty confident that if you restrict your stats to say the last five years of graduate intakes, the gender balance will be more even. Not necessarily 50-50 - but certainly better than 10-90 - at least going by the ratios I see in the engineers I work with. It'll take another 20 years to see the effect of a more open industry to filter through as larger numbers of women work their way up the management chain, although as has already been mentioned, this is already happening.

As an Institution I strongly believe that we should not "see" gender. It has no bearing on the qualities that make engineers who they are as professionals, and so it has no place in our range of awards and honours. If we want to shape an industry that doesn't discriminate, we have to start by cleaning our own house.

Why did I become an engineer? I had no role models - my father was a translator, my mother is a nurse; I got into engineering because I had an interest in the academic side of it and I have a strong appreciation of the value it adds to society, not because I wanted to be like anybody in particular. A passion for the subject is what should motivate people to choose a career. You can't assume your life's going to turn out like the successful role model you are following - that's a really bad reason to make a career (or any other kind of) choice.

Rhys, I think you may have misunderstood where I think the discrimination is occurring - it's the fact that the prize is only open to women that I don't like. That is discrimination. Just because it's against a majority doesn't make it ok, or stop it from being discrimination. I believe in absolute fairness, not weighted fairness dependent on a prevailing political fashion.

In terms of being a professional, I do belong to a minority - a minority of people who went to university having started out with a "disadvantaged" background (i.e. my parents didn't have the means to support me through university, or send me to a "good" school - in fact there was no choice of school in my town). That is a vastly greater disadvantage (it's actually material) than being born with two X chromosomes and I still got on and did what I wanted to do in life.

Yes, we should make sure that the message gets to everybody that engineering is open to all, but there comes a point where you have to accept you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.

Despite what many people may see as some kind of chip on my shoulder, I do have a positive suggestion to make: we don't abolish the award, but we open it to all comers and rename it the IET Diversity Ambassador award (or something to the same meaning), and give it to the person (male or female) who has done most in the year to spread the message that the engineering industry is open to all and a great career to follow.

-------------------------
Dr Joe Silmon PhD MEng CEng MIET
Committee Member, Railway TPN
 12 June 2012 10:25 AM
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westonpa

Posts: 1771
Joined: 10 October 2007

Originally posted by: z315870
Despite what many people may see as some kind of chip on my shoulder,

Your opinion is perfectly valid. If the award had been the other way around I am quite confident that some women would have had something to say, and that does not mean they would have been wrong to have that opinion. With regards to schools and male teachers that is a different situation because there are many male/female children, as we know, and so a more balanced gender of teachers is required for reasons we all know about. However there are not male and female machines, for example, which require fixing.

I have no issue with the young woman award and role models. But it can also be said that young men require role models so let's have a young man engineer of the year award to deliver that.

Regards.
 12 June 2012 10:16 PM
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z315870

Posts: 65
Joined: 30 May 2003

That would satisfy me - but I would be astonished if it actually happened!

-------------------------
Dr Joe Silmon PhD MEng CEng MIET
Committee Member, Railway TPN
 13 June 2012 01:55 PM
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Laurieann989

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To Stewart Taylor, I do aggree that if the best opportunity and idea is to have an equivalent 'men-only' award, and as i said previously there are other awards (but yes these are open to both men and women).

To Dr Joe Silmon, I am afraid of repeating myself but the best aspect of this award is highlighting the work and progression routes of women in the engineering sector, and their individual work in promoting engineering, STEM subjects and apprenticeships (to both young men and women).

I have to agree with Hamish that your example of male primary teachers is not correct and again there is alot of work to encourage more men into that profession.

As i have said previously i personally do not target my talks and presentations to one audience, i use my experiences to involve all groups into my presentations and to ensure that all young people are aware that engineering is possible career path for them. And i completely aggree with you regarding your comment "it shouldn't be left to women engineers to try to promote the cause of better demographic balance. Why not? Because there are (currently) fewer of you than there are of us men. We should all be making the effort, not just the women! "

With regards to your own work in schools, to ensure as you say "you are reaching the full audience", (which is much more like my own approach) i would highly recommend looking at a selection of case studies of people who have came through apprencticeships and degree routes these can be found on a number of websites including the IETs and E&T. You don't need to talk through these but possibly have them on a separate board for the young people to look through in their own time, and maybe give the young people the oppurtunity to then ask you questions regarding the 'case studies'.

Regards

Laurie-ann Benner TMIET
Mary George Memorial Prize Winner 2011
 13 June 2012 06:16 PM
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z315870

Posts: 65
Joined: 30 May 2003

Thank you for your recommendations, Laurie-Ann, I will be sure to research the case studies before I next go to speak to school students so that I have some useful backup info beyond my own experiences.

I would be satisfied if there are equal opportunities for every group to achieve any particular award. It's not good enough for me that there are "other awards" available because those are open to all and so you've still got this extra award that only some people can win; I want to see exactly the same opportunities for either gender. I agree with previous posters that having segregated awards for the work you have cited (promotion of engineering, STEM etc to young people) is a bit strange - once we have got to the level of accepting that we are simply promoting engineering to all, why do we need to honour the genders separately?

It is conceivable, is it not, that if a male engineer were to put in huge effort to specifically reaching out to young women to join the profession, that he might actually have been the one that year to have done the most to promote the cause of gender balance, and yet the award can only be won by a woman.

Hence my suggestion (the second part of my rubric to this discussion - not abolish but replace with an equivalent that is open to all) that we have an award for someone who has worked hard to promote diversity and attract many different backgrounds to the profession. Would it be so bad if we generalised this award to make ti open to all? You didn't respond to that suggestion specifically - what are your thoughts? Would it work for you? if not, why not? Do you feel that you wouldn't be able to compete with male engineers to win that prize? (given the level of passion you clearly have, I find that unlikely!)

-------------------------
Dr Joe Silmon PhD MEng CEng MIET
Committee Member, Railway TPN
 14 June 2012 10:14 AM
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hamishbell

Posts: 287
Joined: 11 September 2001

I'll make two comments:
1. Discrimination used to have a positive connotation. It implied a maturity of judgement and the ability to distinguish acceptable as against less-acceptable conditions. Just as the word "wicked" has acquired the opposite meaning to its original, so has "discrimination". It is now almost a term of abuse to describe something or someone who is discriminating. This has reached the point where we have to use the term "positive discrimination" to infer the previuosly accepted meaning.

2. Having made that pedantic, but necessary point, the need for "positive discrimination" hasn't gone away just because of the language changes. To encourage plants to grow, the ones with the minority of growth are encouraged by the use of fertilisers (which now of course must be organic). I think that the Womens' award should be viewed in this sense. While half the population is made up of women and the engineering profession is not, I believe one of the purposes of Institutions should be to encourage a greater take up of the profession by women.

To that end, through interviewing on the University recruitment milk round, recruiting women from various backgrounds, encouraging them to seek Institution membership, talking to schools, and encouraging my own children and grandchildren to consider technical and engineering based activities and careers, I've tried to make some contribution to that cause. I applaud others who do the same. This is discrimination and should not be downplayed for linguistic reasons. Let's look at the results, not contemplate the means. Certainly have a mens' award - when there are enough women engineers!

Hopefully Simon will have made his pile by then and will be able to fund it. Now I must do some real work.
Regards
Hamish

-------------------------
Hamish V Bell, BSc, CEng, FIET, FCQI, CQP
2007 - 2010, Vice President and Trustee
 14 June 2012 10:20 AM
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StewartTaylor

Posts: 99
Joined: 18 January 2003

Hamish,

If we're doing pedantic, I wouldn't push the horticultural analogy too far. Generally you will have more seedlings than you need so you'll pull out and discard the weak ones, then you'll apply fertiliser to all of the remainder. You won't keep it from the strong ones.

That said, I agree with the point of your post.

-------------------------
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
 14 June 2012 10:51 AM
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faramog

Posts: 444
Joined: 25 November 2002

Positive 'discrimination' has its place in our country and this award is, in my view, one of those places. The argument that there is no mens award, or black award are all very well and taking the last one, I note there a Black police officers association, but not a white one.

This is, as I understand it, to promote a clear ethnicity issue in the police. In a similar way, the Young Women Engineers award (and the Karen Burt award) are there to remind us all there are not enough women in this field, and there is no justifiable reason for it. On the whole, engineers are not digging holes, there is no great physical need. Its about the ability of the mind to understand problems and solve them using scientific and engineering principles.

Long may this award continue !!

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Eur Ing Graham Prebble CEng MIEE
 14 June 2012 10:23 PM
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westonpa

Posts: 1771
Joined: 10 October 2007

Originally posted by: Laurieann989
As i have said previously i personally do not target my talks and presentations to one audience, i use my experiences to involve all groups into my presentations and to ensure that all young people are aware that engineering is possible career path for them.

What experience do you have that makes you a good role model and what benefits do you think women will bring to the world of engineering?

Regards.
 15 June 2012 09:33 PM
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z315870

Posts: 65
Joined: 30 May 2003

Graham, I think you defeat your own argument here!

If there is no justifiable reason for women to be less proficient engineers than men, then there is also no justifiable reason for men to be less proficient than women at being good engineering role models.

Ergo this award should be ope to all.

Discuss?

-------------------------
Dr Joe Silmon PhD MEng CEng MIET
Committee Member, Railway TPN
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