Women in Innovation, Design and Engineering

Engineering is still far from reaching gender equality. In 2020 only about 15% of engineers were women in the UK (Women’s Engineering Society, 2022). Design is in a slightly better position with 22% of female designers in the workforce (Design Council, 2023). The design sectors with the highest numbers of female staff also have the lowest median salaries. In 2016 median salary in clothing sector with 68% women in the workforce was only 30% of that in the product and industrial design sector with 5% women. We slowly see improvements, but they don’t go far enough.

At the OU only around 15% of our engineering students are female. In design we have more equality with 58% of female students. In both areas the percentage of female students has steadily increased over the last 5 years. The school of E&I has made great strides towards gender equality in its workforce with many Central Academics and Staff Tutors being women. This progress has been rewarded with an Athena Swan Silver Award in 2020.

AdvanceHE Athena Swan and Race Equality award holders awarded between 2020 and 2023

Our male students often already work in engineering related jobs and have a clear picture of what is entailed by being a professional engineer. But female students often come from very diverse backgrounds. To support our female students, we run specific events for female engineers, where everybody is welcome including our male allies. We have recently launched our WIDE: Women in Innovation, Design and Engineering website.

On international women’s day we recorded a conversation with Dr Andrea Patel, one of our highly motivated and engaged female Staff Tutors. Andrea is heavily involved with T452, the engineering capstone module. On T452, 27% of the Associate Lecturers (ALs) are female. Design and Innovation is most popular with female students with 28% of female students choosing projects in this area. The has the highest number of female ALs of all the modules project themes. Andrea analysed the data from a past presentation. One of her findings is that female students perform just as well as male students in terms of outcome. It is great news, that our females doing just as well as male students, regardless of where they started.

To give our female students the opportunity to meet in person and learn from each other’s journeys at the OU and beyond, we are organising a WIDE conference on the 1st and 2nd of July 2023. Registration will open soon. Watch this space.

Women’s Engineering Society (2022). WES Useful Statistics. Available at https://www.wes.org.uk/content/wesstatistics

Design Council (2023) International Women’s Day: Women in Design. Available at https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/our-work/news-opinion/international-women-s-day-women-design/






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