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Q&A with Elizabeth Donnelly, CEO of The Women’s Engineering Society

A summary of a Q&A with Elizabeth Donnelley in celebration of the centenary of WES and in the run up to the Women in STEM Conference 2019.

WES is celebrating its centenary this year, how are you celebrating and what are your plans for the rest of the year?

The celebrations started in January with our Change Makers event, bringing many of the Past Presidents of WES together, along with our younger Members who represent our future.

Remembering the Past, Celebrating the Present, and Transforming the Future. It was great to see all the previous inspirational women who were Presidents of WES come together.

We have three conferences planned for 2019, the first WES Centenary Conference took place in March at the RAF Museum in London and hosted Mandy Hickson an Ex-fighter pilot from the RAF and Emma Howard-Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency. There are two more conferences planned for this year, one in Cardiff, Wales, on May 15th and one in Edinburgh, Scotland, in collaboration with INWES in October.

Further celebrations include the WES Centenary Fundraising Dinner on 21st June, WES Centenary Members’ Lunch on 23rd June and International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) on 23rd June. WES has also launched its interactive online heritage trail, thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, exploring WES through its 100 year history. This is linked with ongoing wikithons across the country, aiming to add more women, especially women in engineering, to Wikipedia.

What are the major challenges facing Women In STEM currently?

The challenges faced by women in STEM are systemic. In order to encourage more STEM engagement among women we need to address the way the problem is being framed. Women are not the problem and men should be trying to work out how to support this change in perception. We do have to applaud companies that are already supporting the recruitment of women, but only 12% of engineers in the UK are women. The government is doing two things which should help change the system. Firstly, the government has urged FTSE 350 companies to have 33% of board positions filled by women by 2020. Secondly, the government is working towards narrowing the gender pay gap.

What tips do you have for girls and women that want to pursue a career in STEM?

Do it and don’t take no for an answer. If you enjoy maths and physics then take them for A level, you don’t have to have A grades to study engineering or pursue an engineering career. Find the sweet spot between what you find easy and what you enjoy and don’t let anybody hold you back. You can also find a mentor to advise you through your studies and your career. WES have a MentorSET programme through which you can find mentors who can provide support and advice. WES are hoping to fundraise and provide discounted rates for this for their members.

For International Women in Engineering Day 2019 the slogan is ‘Transforming the Future’, what do you think the future holds for women in engineering and how will WES be celebrating the day?

The future of engineering will focus on merging. It will see the merger of different types of engineering such as: mechanical engineering and electronical engineering into mechatronics. This will happen across all engineering streams. We are heading towards a future centred on driverless cars and renewables so it’s important that women are at the centre of these designs.

WES has a resource pack available on their website for INWED 2019 for everyone worldwide. WES have also launched their Top 50 Women in Engineering Awards: Current and Former Apprentices  – nominations are open now and the deadline has been extended until 23 April – you can nominate other inspirational women but women are also welcome to nominate themselves.  All women should be shouting out about themselves and their contribution to engineering.

What tips do you have for employers that want to attract more women to STEM positions?

Make women more visible in your recruitment campaigns and marketing material. This will attract more women to apply for positions. Employers should also gender decode their job descriptions, WES have a gender decoder on their website which you can use to prevent masculine-coded language and encourage more female applicants.

Employers should also stop using words such as ‘essential criteria’, women are less likely to apply than men if they think they don’t meet the essential criteria. Applications that use language such as ‘meeting more than 3 of the criteria’ are seen as more welcoming applications by women. Shortlists of applicants should always include women. It is also important for employers to make the workplace more flexible so women can return to the work place. Especially for those that have long career breaks, providing ‘returnships’ can help women get back to speed and support their return to work. Ultimately women should go for it!

Elizabeth Donnelly will be speaking at the Women in STEM Conference 2019, to find out more and book on check out the website here:

This Q&A and summary was conducted and written by Tatiana de Berg