Pink Lego alone cannot engineer greater diversity

November 3, 2016

The self-deprecating headline (“Building society”, Features, 27 October) is misplaced. Notwithstanding the assertion that applications are “not increasing significantly”, the quoted figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that engineering applications went up by about 43 per cent between 2007-08 and 2014-15, while the percentage of UK applicants to engineering went up by about 14 per cent. Rather good figures, given the economic circumstances. Such a performance demonstrates that engineering makes sense to the applicants, and their trusted advisers, when lifelong decisions are made.

The outstanding long-term challenge for engineering is to attract young women into the subject and the profession. This is not a new problem for the UK but in South America, for example, more than 50 per cent of engineering students are female. I once supported a careers fair at a prestigious Manchester girls’ school; not expecting to recruit local students but to offer advice. However, my lasting memory is the mother who propelled her daughter past our interesting exhibits and images, muttering “...we don’t want this, dear”; the daughter was almost drawn. How to resolve this – pink Lego? Or a concerted effort between the profession, the government, education and the media, to address a real and pressing diversity problem?

Andrew Starr
Professor of maintenance systems, head of the Through-life Engineering Services Institute and director of Education, School of Aerospace, Transportation and Manufacturing
Cranfield University

It was refreshing (albeit overdue) to see an eight-page feature about engineering in last week’s issue. All the authors took pains to emphasise that engineering is becoming more inclusive and that a modern engineer needs to be much more than a technical expert.

In the UK, we need many more people (and particularly women) to become engineers, to develop and support a sustainable economic future and to contribute to meeting the challenges that society faces globally. Key to this is the public’s perception of, and engagement with, engineering. Engineering pervades us (it has been said that if things in our world are not attributable to God, then they are attributable to engineers!) and yet people who enjoy the fruits of engineering (food, transport, energy, health, communications, entertainment…) do not associate them with engineering. Clearly, the media are of tremendous importance in communicating the correct message to people; it is therefore a great pity that one of the main illustrations for the feature showed three white males, all wearing high-visibility clothing and hard hats. This is not what modern professional engineering is about but it is the image that the UK public holds fast to, unfortunately reinforced by the choice of illustration.

I should add that we are two of the six authors of this feature.

Peter Goodhew and Kel Fidler
Advisers to New Model in Technology and Engineering

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