Young women were encouraged and inspired to explore careers in aeronautics this month, at an event designed to help create the next generation of aerospace engineers.
The day was run by Imperial College London’s Department of Aeronautics in April. The university specialises in science, engineering, medicine and business.
After being welcomed by President Alice Gast, 80 girls aged 13-15 from eight different London schools attended workshops, talks, and activities to discover what a career in aerospace engineering looks like.
Aerospace engineering is the primary field of engineering concerned with the development of aircraft and spacecraft. It has two major and overlapping branches: Aeronautical engineering and Astronautical Engineering.
The Department of Aeronautics' Dr Paul Bruce at Imperial College, who led the open day, said: “The goal for the event was to inspire the next generation of aerospace engineers. We wanted to inspire them, show them what aeronautics is all about, and dispel some of the myths about what engineers really do.
“The highlight of the day was trying out our new flight simulator – the pupils loved it.”
According to WISE – a campaign group working to address the gender imbalance in science, technology and engineering – while there has been an increase of 13,000 more women working in Core STEM occupations, the proportion of the workforce made up by women has decreased from 22% to 21% since 2015 (in research pubilshed in 2016).
This demonstrates that some progress is being made, but as the STEM sectors continue to grow, the rate at which women are taking up jobs does not compare to that of men.
There have been some areas with a positive change such as the ICT Professionals category, which has grown by 3% since 2015. The growth in the number of women has managed to keep pace in this category with 4,400 more women entering this field since last year, keeping the proportion of ICT professionals who are women at 18%.
In the Engineering Professionals occupational category – which has grown by 2% since 2015 – women now represent only 8% of this group, down from 9% in WISE's latest research.
Similarly, within the ICT Technician’s category, women have increased in number by over 6,000 since 2015, an increase of 16%, in a category that only grew by 14% overall. Women now represent 19% of this category, up from 18% in 2015.
However, not all areas show such positive increases, for example the Engineering Professionals occupational category, which has grown by 2% since 2015, women now represent only 8% of this group, down from 9% in 2015.
The number of women in the Science and Engineering technician category has fallen by just over 1,500 (a decrease of 2%), women now represent only 27% of all Science and Engineering technicians. This is despite the category growing by 5% overall, and increases in certain areas such as Electrical and Electronics technicians where there are now 73% more women and Building and Civil Engineering technicians which saw 3,700 women join the profession since 2015.
The young women attending the Imperial College event were definitely inspired. One attendee commented: “Excellent experience! Great to hear from female engineers.”
Another said: “It was a really insightful day and I really enjoyed it.”
The Department of Aeronautics' Dr Siti Ros Shamsuddin, who led the aircraft stability workshop, said: “It was great to inspire the pupils with our aero activities, as well as during informal interactions with them.
"More importantly, I think we successfully portrayed the many diverse roles you can pursue in engineering.”