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Why climate change is the tipping point to engage young women in engineering

07 March 2020

Jane Cooper, Head of Stakeholder Relations & Regulatory Affairs for Ørsted in the UK, argues that defining global issues such as climate change offer a great opportunity for the industry to offer a vision of what can be achieved through engineering solutions, especially for young women passionate about such issues.

Why climate change is the tipping point to engage young women in engineering
Jane Cooper: "Climate change is the defining challenge of our time."

In a country where equality legislation has been in place for years and the desirability of the enhancing effects of diversity within workplaces is universally recognised, why does the question of ‘how to get women into engineering?’ get so much airtime but yet with so little change?

So, why did I become an engineer? Thirty years ago, it wasn’t common for women to become engineers. I went to an all-girls comprehensive with limited career options: It was either teaching (if you were ‘sciency’) or nursing (if you weren’t). I’d always loved maths and coming from a family of male engineers, I knew there were other options. I also loved the idea of travel, so I studied Mechanical Engineering with French at Coventry Polytechnic (remember them?)

Now, with three decades’ experience under my belt, working in telecoms during the development of the mobile phone sector and in renewable energy since the 2010s, I know I made the right choice. In the past, present and future, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I will always be working on really exciting projects that help to transform society for the better.

How do we get young women into engineering?

Let’s be honest, the rate of increase in female participation in engineering remains not just slow, but painfully slow (and worse in the UK than many other countries). I think it was 3% when I joined. It’s now around 11%. That’s 8% progress in 30 years! Is that really the best we can do? Really? I wonder if concern around societal impact of climate change offers a timely opportunity to harness the motivations of girls and young women to enter engineering?

Climate change is the defining challenge of our time, and one of our biggest societal concerns. The current atmosphere of concern around climate change, where young girls are fully active, is a great opportunity for us to offer a vision of what can be achieved through engineering solutions.

Framing future engineering career options for young women

As a parent, stakeholder professional, active citizen, and engineer, I see girls and young women deeply concerned about the state of the world and people’s lives and looking for ways to mitigate and lessen the impact of climate change.

When framing future options for girls studying STEM subjects, we need to give the wider context, using language that illustrates how a career in engineering could play a pivotal role to overcome the challenge presented by climate change and improve society for all.

So, when it comes to sparking inspiration to pursue a career in engineering in the battle against climate change, let’s capitalise on young women’s interest in making society better to find engineering solutions to take care of our planet. We know there are young men likewise motivated and we do and will continue to recruit them too.

We need a sustainability vision to be loud and proud anyway, but it would be so much better if we increased female participation in the profession at the same time. Who knows, we might even achieve 50% female participation. Now wouldn’t that be engineering sustainability?

  • Jane Cooper, Chartered Mechanical Engineer at Chartered Mechanical Engineer