“Girls More Interested in Engineering” says careers head
Girls are more interested in engineering these days, according to a GSA careers head.
Debbie Thompson is head of careers and deputy head at Westfield independent day school for girls. She says:
“I know we still have a national shortage of women in engineering, but I have to say that girls are definitely more interested in engineering these days and I’ve noticed a distinct rise in the number of girls from our school who have gone on to study it and pursue it as a career.”
Westfield headmistress Catherine Jawaheer and her staff believe that engineering is a career that offers variety, creativity and great opportunities for girls.
Former Westfield pupil, Emma Marshall, is one of them. She specialises in mechanical engineering and computer simulations for construction company RPS Group where she is part of a 21 person office comprising mechanical, electrical and lift engineers and separate administration and CAD departments. During her time at Westfield, she attended a one week work placement at RPS which helped determine her choice of university course. She studied for a first class BEng (Hons) in Building Services Engineering at Northumbria University, a sandwich course which included a year in industry, and acquired a further MEng whilst working at RPS.
“I studied geography, art and mathematics at A level which was quite a broad range. The things I enjoyed most were where there was a definite right or wrong answer such as in maths. I enjoyed problem solving and always preferred dealing with numbers rather than words. Westfield encouraged my choice in degree and gave me the support I needed.”
Emma is pleased that her old school continues to encourage girls in engineering. She has returned to Westfield a number of times to deliver careers talks and now she’s the one offering work experience placements.
Mrs Thompson puts girls’ rising interest in engineering down to having good teachers, a greater general awareness of the opportunities for girls in engineering, and the fact that companies like AMEC are more tuned in to providing outreach and engagement activities which pique girls’ interest. She also believes that all-girls schools have the advantage when it comes to helping girls feel okay about pursuing traditionally male-dominated careers.
Girls Face Engineering Apocalypse
The only disaster facing girls at Westfield School is the ‘zombie apocalypse’ they will live through to test their engineering skills in a series of hands-on exercises devised through a partnership with the Institution of Civil Engineers and Amec Foster Wheeler to mark National Women in Engineering Day.
Armed with a rucksack of limited supplies for the day, the girls will be faced with a race against time to survive life on a remote, zombie-infested island. They will carry out an engineering feasibility study, to decide where to safely spend the night, mapping their whereabouts from natural landscape features, before researching the best renewable energy sources available. To stop their green water supply turning them into zombies, they must barter at the zombie shop to purchase materials to create a water filtration system. The girls will also design and construct a platform upon which to erect a tent that will protect them from water seepage at ground level, requiring them to use practical engineering surveying, setting out and construction skills.
Amy Wright is consultant civil engineer at Amec Foster Wheeler and vice chair of the ICE North East Graduates & Students Committee. She says:
“This is a chance to raise awareness of and celebrate the achievements of women in the industry. We are anticipating a fantastic couple of days when we will get to engage with more than 100 young people, using fun and educational activities to help them learn about the opportunities on offer in civil engineering. The fact that here in the North East we are organising the largest activity of this kind across the UK network of Amec Foster Wheeler offices illustrates the passionate regional support for not only women in the industry but also the civil engineers of tomorrow.”
Westfield School for Girls is a member of the Girls’ Schools Association (‘GSA’). Girls who attend GSA schools are significantly more likely, than all girls nationally, to study STEM subjects at A Level, with 55% studying one or more. Like other GSA schools, Westfield has a year-long programme of events to keep girls interested in engineering and other STEM subjects. Staff also write a blog, Girls In STEM, to inspire girls to study STEM subjects and pursue careers in engineering and other STEM fields.
“Girls’ schools are turning around women-in-engineering disaster”
Alun Jones, president of the Girls’ Schools Association, believes that it’s the girls-only element of GSA schools that make them so successful in inspiring girls to pursue engineering. He says:
“What independent girls’ schools are doing to encourage girls into engineering and other STEM-related careers is at the forefront of turning around this country’s women-in-engineering disaster. Put simply, it’s easier for girls to by-pass society’s gender stereotypes when they attend a girls’ school and the facts back this up.”
Girls in independent girls’ schools buck national trends for gender differences in science and maths. Girls at Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) schools are 75% more likely to take maths A-level, 70% more likely to take chemistry and two and a half times as likely to take physics, than all girls nationally.
Just under two fifths of girls at GSA schools take maths and just over two fifths take at least one science.
The girls punch above their weight too. In physics, 13.4% of all entries from girls come from GSA schools, (above the 5.2% baseline), but they are awarded 25.9% of the A*s and 20.5% of the A or A* grades. In chemistry, girls at GSA schools comprise 8.9% of entries, but they are awarded 19.8% of the A* s and 15.4% of A or A* grades. And in further maths, girls at GSA schools comprise 15.9% of the entries, but they are awarded 24.7% of the A* grades and 20.1% of the A or A*s.