20 Jun 2023

23rd June is an annual celebration of the outstanding achievements of women engineers across the globe. International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) is a day to celebrate and promote the role of female engineers. As a consultancy which encourages workplace equity and greater industry diversity and inclusion, mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineering consultancy Whitecode Consulting is excited to leverage this day to help raise the profile of women in engineering.

Established by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), International Women in Engineering Day will celebrate its 10th year in 2023 shining the spotlight on the accomplishments of women engineers internationally. This year’s theme is #MakeSafetySeen. INWED is an important event, playing a vital role in encouraging more young women and girls into engineering professions. Although women are underrepresented in the engineering industry, it is becoming more diverse, as a 2022 report from EngineeringUK (Women in Engineering) found that 16.5% of those working in engineering are women, compared to 10.5% in 2010. This is thanks, in part, to organisations such as WES, championing the role of women in engineering. Although this is a positive outlook for women engineers, the industry can still do more to support their position.

Closing the skills gap

There is currently a huge skills gap in the UK engineering sector, and one solution is ensuring that more women are supported to take engineering careers. There are 6.1 million engineering roles in the UK and recent figures suggest that a further 1.8m engineers are needed by 2025. To close the gap, the industry must recruit more widely and more inclusively to ensure that there are enough talented engineers to take these positions.

Breaking down stereotypes about engineering

Moreover, talented girls and women who are passionate about engineering should not be discouraged from becoming engineers. However, the reality remains that it is difficult to attract female talent due to the perception that engineering is a career for men. To overcome this stereotype, young girls need to be encouraged to pursue subjects like maths, science and engineering while at school and be given access to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programmes and initiatives during their education.

Commenting on opportunities for women in engineering, Alexandra Davis, Associate Engineer at Whitecode shared, “From personal experience, the industry has come a very long way in its attitude towards women in engineering in the last the last 20 years. There are many more companies, like Whitecode, that offer equal opportunities to all. However, there is still some way to go in evening out the gender ratio and I believe that this is, in part, because it is not presented to young girls as a credible option nearly enough. It is our responsibility, as women already in engineering, to be visible and encourage the next generation.”

Whitecode actively aims to break barriers to women entering the industry and runs an in-house apprenticeship scheme to train and give young people an opportunity to progress by training them as engineers. Whitecode has been able to offer course-specific support to the students at Wilmington Grammar School for Girls, giving girls the opportunity to enter the profession. Whitecode’s directors are highly involved with the apprentices, giving them first-hand access to a wealth of engineering experience.

Breaking the glass ceiling for female engineers

The glass ceiling within STEM fields is also a concern for young women; the worry that they may not be able to achieve the same career opportunities and salaries as their male peers. In recognition of this, Whitecode offers equal opportunities to both male and female employees with a focus on training and development, which includes sponsoring trainees’ degree programmes. The company also offers a CIBSE training and development scheme, giving employees a structured route to becoming an engineer.

Amy Webb was recruited from school, joining Whitecode’s Sustainability department as a Trainee Sustainability Engineer spending four days at Whitecode and one day a week at university. Through encouragement, mentorship and advocacy at Whitecode, Amy has gone on to gain a First-Class Honours Bachelor of Science Degree in Building Services. Moreover, Amy has been promoted twice in the last two years and has been enrolled on three technical courses (thermal bridging, SAP and U-values), showing that women can achieve just as much as their male counterparts.

Thinking about her next steps, Amy said, “Next up, I hope to progress my Associate Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (ACIBSE) accreditation, as well as progressing further in my sustainability role at Whitecode. Perhaps after a well needed break, I’ll go for a Master’s in sustainability!”

The importance of female role models

The lack of female role models is also a concern. Women represent around 11% of the profession, according to WISE’s latest analysis of the Annual Population Survey as of April 2021. Having more visible female role models makes all the difference, as girls and women can see themselves represented in the industry, encouraging them to study engineering or retrain as engineers.

Whitecode’s Head of Sustainability, Ellen Huelin, is passionate about being a visible role model for girls and women, seizing every possible opportunity to participate in events, deliver speeches and present CPDs to provide a positive example of a woman in engineering.

Ellen commented, “Women have so much to offer MEP and at Whitecode we don’t see a distinction because of gender. More to the point, women shouldn’t have to justify their talents because women aren’t traditionally thought of as engineers – we are equal, so I have a sense of duty as a Director to facilitate women within the industry who may have been overlooked for being female.”

Making a difference for women

Another reason why the industry needs more female engineers is that gender diversity delivers better results. Innovation thrives in teams where diverse thinking is not only encouraged but actively practiced and this comes as a result of having diverse teams. Moreover, through having more women in engineering, we can help create, design and deliver buildings which make a difference for women. As men make up the majority of building designers, women’s building user needs have historically been neglected.

However, diversity can change this. For example, the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry has recently seen planning authorities approve building designs for the first women's-only tower block in Britain. The project, initiated by a housing association established in 1920 as part of the suffragette movement aims to construct 102 flats in west London. These flats will be exclusively rented to single women and will feature tailored designs to suit their needs.

Specific considerations such as slightly lower kitchen work surfaces and optimal ventilation for the comfort of menopausal women will be incorporated, as highlighted by Women's Pioneer Housing (WPH), the landlord overseeing the project. The development is being carried out in partnership with L&Q, one of London's largest housing associations. The aim of the project is to create homes where women can rebuild their lives. In line with INWED’s 2023 theme, #MakeSafetySeen, this project is directly improving the safety of women and is an excellent example of what can be achieved through more diversity within the industry.

Alexandra Davis, Associate Engineer at Whitecode, observed, “If we want products and buildings to be constructed that are suitable for both men and women, then we need both perspectives in designing them.”

Whitecode Consulting is optimistic about the future of the industry, and encourages other firms in the sector will follow its example by actively working to offer equal opportunities to both men and women to collectively create a diverse industry that caters to all.



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