Working towards gender equality at the School of Engineering and Innovation

I am very proud to say that the School of Engineering and Innovation, which Design is part of, has received an Athena SWAN Silver Award following its recent submission to AdvanceHE. Athena SWAN is an internationally-recognised gender equality initiative, acting as a catalyst for change and cultural transformation, which enables staff and students to achieve their maximum potential.

We gained a Bronze Award in 2016 in recognition of our work on gender equality, and the Silver Award that we received this year recognises that we took action in response to the challenges identified in the Bronze submission and demonstrated the positive impact of those actions.

I led the Athena SWAN self-assessment team (SAT) with a membership drawn from academic, professional services and post-graduate students within the School. In the submission, the SAT reflected on gender equality and wider equal opportunity issues in our School and was proud to report on a positive change in culture to the benefit of all.

Over the last 6 years, we have attracted more female students into Design and Engineering subject at the OU. For example, the proportion of female engineering students at Stage 1, from 11% in 2012 to 19% in 2019. While the corresponding national average has remained relatively constant, the percentage of women on design and engineering entry-point modules has grown year-on-year. We are very proud to say that now equal numbers of women and men are studying Design modules, and we are above the sector average.

Figure 1. Female population (%), OU Stage 1 entry-point modules / HESA benchmark.

A trend towards increasing number of female students can also be seen in postgraduate research study. We have also increased the proportion of female full-time research students to 47% in 2019.

Why are we attracting more female students to study with us?

One reason might be that we have been working very hard to create a more gender balanced workforce in Engineering and Innovation. Over the years, we have implemented fully gender-balanced interview panels. Subsequently, we appointed equal numbers of women and men to academic positions since 2015. We also have a strong representation by women on the School’s decision-making committees, and women are also as likely as men to serve on external committees, making sure that women have the same opportunities to be promoted into higher academic positions.

How do we make sure that this positive trend carries on?

We engage our students in a series of extracurricular events that attract women and men alike. Since 2016, we have held a successful WiE student conference, in which female engineers from industry are invited to talk about their work and act as role models for our students. Attendance has increased annually (from 25 in 2016 to 80+ in 2019) with many students returning each year. The conference has inspired students to form a Women’s Engineering Society (WES) affiliated group with over 100 members. This year, WiE will be held online. You can register here for:

OU Women in Engineering Pre-conference Social Event

OU Women in Engineering Online Conference 2021

We have also offered a variety of engagement events in Design over the last 6 years, with a very good balance of female and male students attending and contributing. E&I hosts an annual Design exhibition to celebrate the project work of Design students at all stages of study. The exhibition has a high rate of female student participation and creates positive impact, with role models provided by female academic staff. In parallel, an online gallery and printed catalogue show the work to audiences who cannot attend in person. The winners of the ‘best design awards’ in 2018 and 2019 were women.

If you like to see the full list of achievements and know what further impactful action we are planning, read our award application at https://www.open.ac.uk/stem/engineering-and-innovation/about

To continue our work and expand its remit to consider more Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) aspects, we are looking for male and female undergraduate students and Associate Lecturers from the School of Engineering and Innovation to join our SAT. Are you interested to join the team? Contact Nicole.Lotz@open.ac.uk .

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