Jenny Hazzard: Education is key to women studying science
Last week, the First Minister announced a new £250,000 fund to boost the number of women choosing science and engineering as a career.
Writing as one of a relatively rare breed of female engineers in Scotland, I applaud the Scottish Government for recognising the need to promote diversity in an industry that, like others, has felt the impact of the recession and with skills shortages threatening, needs to attract the very best talent now more than ever.
To do this, we need to start early. Improving understanding among young girls about what a career in engineering might actually entail is critical. Common media images of engineers in hard hats risk alienating those who might actually be interested in this career route. Engineering is not an “on site” only job – it requires creativity and communications skills as well as technical knowledge.
Growth markets such as renewable energy represent an enormous opportunity to get more women engaged in these fields. Areas like biology, ecology, geology, hydraulics, acoustics and many branches of engineering are in demand – it must be reinforced that this is a highly-employable arena, especially important in this current economic climate.
It is also important that we educate the teachers and careers advisers. If they don’t understand the diversity and opportunity that science and engineering-related careers can offer to women, then it is unlikely to be filtered down to young females choosing subjects that will ultimately determine their career paths.
The engineering and science sectors must also play their part in proactively promoting opportunities for women. WSP’s Launchpad programme with local schools and universities is equally focused on attracting students from both genders into the engineering profession. Women represent almost a third of our engineering staff – the national average is less than one in ten. However, more needs to be done.
As with all government initiatives, the devil will be in the detail, but the principle of getting more women into engineering and science sectors, which offer great career prospects and add real value to Scotland’s economy, should be strongly supported.
• Jenny Hazzard is associate director at WSP (Scotland) Environment and Energy.
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