Today, 8 March, is International Women’s Day.
To mark the event, I set out with two of my colleagues, Barbara Padel and Anthea Gombart, to talk to school girls – aged ten to twelve-years-old – about what it means to be an engineer.
By sharing our own experience of the world of work, we wanted to open the girls’ eyes to what engineering is, challenge expectations about what an engineer looks like, and increase awareness of the exciting and diverse career opportunities available to engineers today.
Holy Spirit Girls National School in Ballymun
Our first school visit was to the Holy Spirit Girls National School in Ballymun, where we met a class of twelve-year olds.
We talked about the stimulating career options available to women in modern engineering, from designing roads and bridges that help people to travel faster and more safely, to devising new technologies that help people to work on the go, to developing medical equipment that saves lives.
We also spoke about how the out-dated ‘man in hard hat’ stereotype can hold girls back from pursuing a career in engineering, and explained that most of our time is spent in creative problem solving – drawing and sketching out ideas – in the office, rather than out on site.
We also discussed the fact that only 12% of engineers in Ireland are women, compared with 20% in Spain, Italy and China, and how important it was for us to have teachers, parents and grandparents who encouraged us to follow our chosen path into engineering.
The girls wanted to know where our own interest in engineering began, and we explained that we each had a curiosity for how things work and a desire to solve problems and make a difference in the world.
At the end of the workshop, and quite unexpectedly, one of the students declared, ‘I want to be an engineer now.’ The three of us were a little surprised that our talk could have had such an immediate impact, but it just goes to show the importance of female engineers getting out and sharing our professional experience with young girls, encouraging them to aim high and not let any outdated ideas steer them off course.
St. Raphaela’s Primary School in Stillorgan
Our second school visit was to St. Raphaela’s Primary School in Stillorgan, where we were met by an enthusiastic group of 5thclass girls.
We talked about what the word ‘engineering’ means and how many everyday things in the world are affected by engineering, from mobiles and whiteboards, to tables and chairs.
We also discussed the different types of work engineers do – from designing bridges and engines, to developing IT systems and cosmetics.
The girls then got their hands on the puzzles and games we had brought with us to encourage their spatial awareness and their ability to visualise things in three dimensions. These proved a real hit.
When our time was up, we packed up our things, happy that our talk had had a positive effect on the children and confident that, with encouragement, some of the girls we had met that day might just choose to follow our lead into engineering.