Happy Ada Lovelace Day! In case you’re wondering; Ada Countess of Lovelace was an English mathematician and writer who collaborated with Charles Babbage on the Analytical Engine, an early mechanical general-purpose computer. The daughter of Lord Byron and Anne Isabella Noel Byron, Ada Lovelace was schooled in maths and science, unlike the majority of girls growing up in the 19th Century.
Ada Lovelace Day was first organised by Suw Charman-Anderson in 2009 and aims to raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) by encouraging people all over the world to discuss the women in STEM industries whose work they admire.
According to an article on Management Today, one of the first editions of The Woman Engineer magazine highlighted in 1919 – just over a hundred years after Ada Lovelace was born – that only 6% of engineers in the United Kingdom were female. Almost a hundred years later again, in 2015, that statistic still hasn’t changed. Yet in other industrialised European countries, such as Germany, France and Sweden, women now make up 15-25% of all engineers in the workforce.
This inequality in the engineering industry is hard to explain when evidence suggests that girls do well in STEM subjects at school. Why do so few go on to study these subjects at university and even fewer then get jobs in these fields? Many blame the expectation of society for women to take on more ‘suitable’ jobs, as well as the existing unconscious bias of employers in the industry.
Last month, Naomi Climer, the new president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), warned that Britain desperately needs to persuade hundreds of thousands of women to take up engineering to help the country exploit new technologies. She added that “failure would damage the nation’s capacity to meet the challenges of the future”.
Climer, who is the first female president of the world’s largest engineering institution, told the Observer newspaper that Britain was facing “a serious shortfall in engineers”. According to the article, figures suggest that the country will need to recruit almost two million over the coming decade. Because of advances in many fields such as robotics, software design and renewable energy, Britain will only be able to make the most of these improvements when they are able to recruit the problem-solving skills of engineers.
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