Just because there is no reason women should not be engineers is not the same thing as saying the door is open for them
I wasn't suggesting we don't have role models at all. It's fine to say the door is open to all. What I have been saying all along is that it doesn't take a woman to say those things - anybody can say it.
I agree about positive action, but YWE's eligibility rules go much further than that, though - it's not just positive action but a form of discrimination, call it positive or negative it's still unfair and I think it's a bad example to set if we want women to feel they are competing in an even playing field.
Maybe we don't want that. Maybe we want women engineers to feel they'll get an easy ride, but I doubt that somehow, because we wouldn't retain them for long as once they discover the harsh realities they would up and leave.
I notice you mention self-belief, Graham, I think that is key to the entire thing and I don't think it's something we can do a lot about as it depends much more on the teachers and parents of young people. I see our role as more spreading awareness of the opportunities - it's up to parents and teachers to inspire young people with the belief that they can take up the opportunities we offer.
Just to give an example of this, a couple of years ago I hosted a work experience student from a comprehensive school in Tipton (in a particularly deprived area of the West Midlands). This young woman hugely impressed me with her enthusiasm, quick learning and initative. She'd ended up with us (a university research department) because she'd expressed an interest in physics and her teachers had turned to contacts at the University to try to set up a placement; in the end, instead of Physics she got Electronic Engineering, because I was available to spend the time and nobody from Physics was. This wasn't an ideal situation and must have been hugely intimidating for her (coming from a community where very few people attend university and unemployment in general is very high), but I met one of her teachers and it was clear he'd been instrumental in helping her realise her interests, fuelling her self-belief and ambitions. He was so full of pride over this bright young woman that he was fit to burst. This teacher was the one who had the opportunity to put time and effort into inspiring this young woman. You'll note that the teacher is male.
I would argue that it is there that the power exists to kindle self-belief - all we can do as outsiders to the day-to-day lives of young people is to show them the opportunities that are available to them.
You don't have to be female to do that.
On a slightly more flippant note, but perhaps pointing out how ridiculous it is to have a prize open to only one gender, what would happen if a transgender person were nominated? Would they have to undergo some kind of medical before being accepted as eligible? Would pre-op male-to-female transexuals be accepted? Their own identity might well be female, yet their physiology would be male.
Here are a couple of things I think we can do to show ourselves as being more open, without having a "you're a good engineer, for a girl" prize:
1 - Stop referring to engineering/science as a "male-dominated" profession. It implies there's some kind of conspiracy to keep women out. I wouldn't even talk about the gender balance unless asked. Then point out that the disparity occurs at the stage of application, rather than being a result of discrimination in selection for education or jobs. Also point out that these days many more women are applying and working in the industry than used to be the case. This must surely be true, if my own observations bear out across the industry.
2 - Open up the issue of diversity - it's not just about women and men, it's about disabled people, certain ethnic minorities, and most of all about people from poor families. The diversity section of our output to students should focus on the ways that are open for every sector of society to take part. For example, a slide showing how poor students will always be able to afford to attend university (remember, they have been told a lot of lies by certain political groups who haven't realised that the rubbish they talk is effecting the very social change they claim to oppose).
3 - Select case studies that reflect the diversity of the population. I don't have a problem with that - deliberately doing a slide on a woman engineer you know because you want all the audience to see someone "like them". It's the paying them £1000 for it that I have a problem with.
Dr Joe Silmon PhD MEng CEng MIET
Committee Member, Railway TPN