Blog: Imagining the future of women in engineering
On International Women in Engineering Day 2022, EMEC’s Technical Manager, Caroline Lourie, reflects on how engineering has changed and continues to change the world in which we live.
The industrial revolution changed the world; the world is transforming once again.
Coming from a strong industrial heritage in the North East of England – once famous for coal-mining, ship-building and heavy manufacturing industries – many of the landscapes I knew from my childhood have now changed beyond recognition.
The stories behind those changes inspired me as a youngster: the scale of construction of bridges and railways that became the lifeblood of progress, improving trade and transport, opening up new horizons that had not easily existed before.
Those opportunities were not open to everyone then. For example, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers was formed in 1847, but its first female member was not elected until 1924; even now there are significantly more male than female engineers. Socio-economic barriers and outdated misconceptions should be continually challenged, as there is far more to be gained by seeking diversity of involvement: this is particularly true in the innovation space. The most attractive employers in modern engineering are those with diverse workforces, who strive for true equality of opportunity for their employees.
As we know, historical progress and innovation have not come without a cost; the long-term detriment of the developed world’s appetite for fossil fuels is now impossible to ignore. Volatile markets and scarcity of supply are becoming more common – we urgently need to engineer more sustainable solutions for existence.
Engineers that once designed and built the first steam-powered locomotives now inspire a new generation with a new purpose: sea and river ports that were in terminal decline are now repurposed towards bright new futures supporting the offshore wind sector; the steel and petrochemical plants that inspired the backdrop to Ridley Scott’s “Bladerunner” have seen investment towards becoming a green hydrogen transport hub. This story is repeated across the UK and beyond. In Scotland in particular, where the wealth of renewable energy resource is so vast, we are seeing huge investment and change in power generation, changes in energy use and transport. This is leading to a multitude of opportunities for existing skills transition and emergent careers across a range of engineering disciplines.
Engineering is no longer the domain of men wielding oily spanners.
Today there’s a multitude of opportunities: digital engineering; clean energy innovation for efficient power generation and transport; the challenges of building our homes, schools and workplaces with lower carbon emissions; ensuring security in energy and food chain supply; minimising the harmful impact of our actions upon our environment; the list goes on.
There is no better time to be involved in engineering and technology transition as we work to transform the ways in which we live and impact our planet, and gender is no barrier to innovative talent.
The face of engineering has changed; the ways in which we work has changed.
It is essential that as a society we continue to actively promote diversity, inclusivity and equality in this transformation.
The thoughts and needs of all stakeholders must be captured as we #imaginethefuture.