35 Women To Watch – But where are the Engineers?

“Bright, fearless and determined to follow their passions, this year's 35 women under 35 are breaking new ground in business”. Management Today, in association with Accenture, has recently published its annual list of “smart, ambitious women who are carving out their own careers and aren't afraid to buck trends”.  This list has been published annually since 2001. In that first year there were a number of people who are now extremely well-known, particularly Stella McCartney (“her trickle-down influence on the high street is already noticeable”), Martha Lane Fox (“a businesswoman to watch”) and Rebekah Wade (“the youngest person to become editor of a national newspaper, Wade has seen circulation rise in her two years as editor of the News of the World”).  How many of today’s list will achieve such fame (or indeed notoriety) in the years ahead?

The success of these women from the first year of the 21st century has probably made it slightly easier for those who follow them today.

That said, business is still male-dominated and it is, of course, highly commendable – and necessary - that we continue to laud the achievements of the women in the 2015 list. However, even though it may seem churlish to pick a (small) hole in this celebration, there is one area where we need to do more…

The 2015 commentary in Management Today states, “from finance and food to science and solar power, this group is all about passion, not pay cheques”.  Another thing it’s not about – or at least not very much - is engineering. Only two of the list of 35 are obviously engineers (Nicola Combe, Product Manager, British Gas Connected Homes and Joanne Sui, Civil Engineer, London Bridge Associates), while only one is a computer scientist (Dr Nasrin Hafezparast, Co-Founder And Clinical Technology Lead, Outcomes Based Healthcare).  Going back to that first list, in 2001 only two of the women named were engineers so not much seems to have changed.  I conducted a few other random checks. In the 2005 list there were only two women who obviously had an engineering background and in 2010 there were none.  This is not a scientific approach. I’ve only checked a few years, but the impression these lists give is, I’d argue, unmistakable.  Women can and do succeed in a wide range of businesses.  Those in the Management Today lists come from a variety of backgrounds, but do not generally have engineering qualifications or even an engineering-related background.

Engineering recruitment’s biggest problem just now is the lack of engineers.  Article after article, in blogs and in the national press, consistently warns of the problems this shortage will cause in the future.  Article after article laments the paucity of women in engineering and IT and the facts that not only does the country/economy need more engineers (of either sex) but that we simply are not doing enough to encourage women to go into the (very rewarding) careers that come under the generic title of engineering.  The Management Today lists over the years include some positive role models for girls and young women as they make their way up the education ladder; it’s just a pity there are not more from the world of engineering.  Next year perhaps?

 

Karen Stewart, Associate Director, Nine Twenty Engineering.