This, although it may not seem like it, is, in fact, a complaint.
There are three main reasons why the cleanliness levels of the toilets at work are very high:
- Women have a tendency to use public bathrooms in the most hygienic manner
- The cleaners do an immaculate job
- Hardly anyone uses them
The last point is where the problem is. The bathroom stalls are very clean because they are very rarely used. Not because ladies have a stronger bladder than males- the reality is actually the opposite. All forms of professional work I have undertaken are within the engineering industry and the number of women who walk these corridors alongside me is frighteningly low. It’s common knowledge that this is the case in this particular field. But it doesn’t mean I am not often shocked by the facts presented to me.
I face the same reality whilst at university: the number of ladies on my course is astonishingly low. Of the 167 students that started my course with me, only 13 of them were females. The maths here is pretty simple- less than 10%. Since embarking on this journey towards a STEM-based career, I have often wondered why it is that the presence of females is alarming low. When considering my past work experiences, I have not encountered any situations or problems that required a pool of male-only minds when seeking solutions. Neither have I experienced any form of prejudice because I am a female.
Unlike the majority of my posts, I’m not just stringing some words together with the hopes of sharing my very abstract views and discoveries about life. This weeks’ message is focused on a worldwide issue which means I can throw some numbers at you to validate my points.
Lack of Awareness
Concerning engineering in particular, I myself didn’t really know what an engineer was until I started my degree.
An engineer is a problem solver who uses a combination of mathematical and physics principles to design, build and maintain.
The engineering discipline will have a large influence on the further responsibilities that come with the role. Such include mechanical, automotive, chemical, architectural, electrical and electronic, medical, civil engineering and much more.
The purpose of many campaigns such as WISE and Stemettes.org is to educate young people on the opportunities available; opportunities I wish had been brought to my attention at a much younger age that would probably make me feel more comfortable in a world that still feels very foreign to me.
There are a lot of traditional images that come to mind when we think of an engineer. You’ve probably imagined a man in a boiler suit with a spanner in his hand. This isn’t entirely incorrect but the world of engineering is not limited to this common misconception.
Even though female engineers are few- there is a stereotype attached to them aswell. As with most, these stereotypes are far from the truth. You can have a love for makeup, hair and fashion and still master the art of using complex formulas and equations to design a 5-litre twin turbo V12 engine. I promise.
Statistics show that girls simply aren’t interested and don’t pursue STEM subjects beyond compulsory education. I witnessed this first hand as a STEM student and I cannot say why I think this may be. The few that do study STEM-based subjects at school (from my experience) often don’t pursue STEM careers. They focus their attention on finance or medicine (although some argue that this still falls under STEM). Although the numbers aren’t exactly 50-50, you’ll find significantly more females studying Economics or Accounting than you will studying Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence.
I shared this video a few years ago, here Debbie Sterling discusses that she feels the lack of female engineers is as a result of social conditioning that starts at a young age. Watch here:
Culture & Ethnicity
Although I have mainly discussed engineering here, many of the issues and principles are the same across all STEM subjects/careers.
Now with regards to the lack of young female STEM students (with a strong focus on engineering) from ethnic minority backgrounds, here’s what I think… It should come as no surprise to you that the majority of people in this category live in major cities like London. The engineering sector is one that very often requires large areas of land for factories, laboratories and test sites, the type of free land you don’t come by often in London, at least not for a cheap price.
So in simple terms, engineering work is not something you tend to see in major cities- aside from when the escalators at Piccadilly Circus Station aren’t working. But these young girls see banks and they see law firms and so this is what attracts them; you can’t be interested in what you don’t know and you don’t know what you can’t see.
The Royal Academy of Engineering revealed that “People from ethnic minorities make up 25% of the UK’s primary school children, 25% of engineering graduates and 12% of the working age population but account for only around 6% of those in employed as professional engineers.”
I have worked for some major engineering firms, some even based in London and I can count the number of people that look like me on one hand. Not because these companies don’t care about ethnic diversity, but because there isn’t a very diverse pool to choose from. To make matters worse, you’ll find that there is a significant proportion of engineering graduates who then end up working in the finance sector. This could be due to a number of reasons and I think I massive contributing factor here is location.
Why do I care?
As with all causes, I have a personal issue that makes my support somewhat selfish one: I lack role models. Being a self-motivated individual has its limitations. It can be very difficult to pursue a career/consider career progression when you have no-one to look up to. The numbers are getting better, but they aren’t there yet.
The number of role models is even more worrying when ethnic groups are taken into consideration. I must admit that when I watched Hidden Figures I experienced a mix of emotions; the most obvious being sadness. The difficulties of being a woman in the industry were hard enough without having to put up with racial discrimination. I also felt a great deal of shame for not having known more about Katherine Johnson beforehand. My post Differences Matter was written to encourage our generation. More specifically, females from ethnic minority backgrounds to be the role models for future generations. Hopefully continuing in the footsteps of those like Katherine Johnson to bridge the gap.
This isn’t an issue isolated to the world of STEM either. I have observed and heard similar accounts from those around me who are of ethnic minority. When on internships, placements, work experience etc., there’s an obvious lack in the number of professionals that look like them. Maybe I’m being too ambitious… But the power of change is in our hands! We can either take advantage of it or sit back and complain about the way things are.
What is the solution?
To raise awareness, hence why I have written this post. People can’t be interested in a career they don’t know about. Neither can they aspire to pursue a career where it doesn’t appear that they will fit in.
Please feel free to learn more about Women in STEM work using the following sources:
My final message is to those considering a career in STEM and feel discouraged.
You are just as deserving and capable as your male counterparts, your intellect, fresh ideas and problem-solving skills are in demand. If you are truly interested, don’t be deterred because the people you see don’t look like you… soon enough they will.