For International Women in Engineering Day Professor Gillian Youngs looks at how, as a society, we can attract more women into science, engineering and technology.
As a feminist scholar I have been asked at job interviews throughout my academic career – how can we get more women into science, engineering and technology? And my answer quite simply is – get more women into science, engineering and technology.
What I mean by that is act to ensure there are a sufficient number of women working in these fields as role models to encourage more into them. And as we all know this is a wider issue of diversity. As the key drivers in society, these fields strongly reflect the dominant (white) male operating culture of all major power bases. This means that even if women manage to make it into these areas, every day will offer new challenges to them being comfortable and successful within it, in an environment that they do not share in equal ways and will often find alienating.
I have been researching on these areas, writing about them, and working with women in and beyond the academic sphere to bring about change all my career and will continue to do so, but one of the problems is that the entrenched situation offers too few opportunities to bring about real change. There needs to be much more attention given to what women feel could create that change in pre-school, school, further and higher education and the workplace.
One suggestion would be a major national forum to take evidence from women right across society on this issue, with a commitment by government and business to work together to enact real changes to reflect what women say is needed, based on their own experiences and their views about the role of science, engineering and technology.
I have argued recently that we face an 11th hour situation, with artificial intelligence and automation among other cutting-edge developments, embedding technology ever more deeply into our daily lives, with profound impact on the nature of society and relationships. Women have played too small a part in both the innovations, which have brought us to this point, and the world it has shaped. With all the implications of the new hi-tech horizons, are we really going to accept women continuing to be largely excluded like this?
Society loses out in so many ways because women’s expertise, knowledge and insights do not steer our futures as much as they could, due to established male power.
International Women in Engineering Day is a great global occasion for celebrating all that girls and women are and do to contribute positively to the world, and an opportunity to think about how different it would be if their inputs were fully harnessed across all areas of society, politics, the economy and culture.
I co-founded International Feminist Journal of Politics in 1999 and it thrives and grows through the international collective and collaborative work of women and men. Change requires the commitment of institutions and individuals of all kinds and often starts with small steps. There is real value in any creative moves we can make to explore women’s views about the kinds of science, engineering and technology they want to be part of.
Professor Gillian Youngs is Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, with applied research and industry expertise in the creative arts and design as driver for innovation. Professor Youngs is also co-founder International Feminist Journal of Politics and continues to serve on its Senior Advisory Council.