UCD Engineering Graduates Association hosted a discussion on gender balance chaired by Engineers Ireland’s first female president Prof Jane Grimson

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UCD Engineering Graduates Association (EGA) recently hosted a round-table discussion on gender balance with Engineers Ireland, chaired by Engineers Ireland’s first female president Prof Jane Grimson (1999-2000) and attended by the director general of Engineers Ireland, Caroline Spillane.

Spillane outlined the huge spread of the STEPS (Science, Technology, Engineering Programme for Schools) outreach programme for primary and second level throughout the year – some 1,200 events in total and impacting on some 60,000 people. A separate ‘Women in Engineering’ event is planned for this coming Autumn. The director general expressed the view strongly that collaboration between the various engineering organisations was essential to allow the considerable challenge to be shared. She sought “a richer dialogue on the value of engineering in society”, which would strongly encourage more events on the issue of gender balance in the profession.

Chair Jane Grimson fully agreed with Spillane and offered some insights on how the issue was being addressed in Trinity College Dublin, where she served as vice provost for a period. “The efforts we all make have to be scalable to make a difference,” she said. “No one organisation can adequately address this multifaceted challenge.”

Michael Loughnane, manager of organisational development at ESB and chair of the EGA Subcommittee on Gender Balance, made reference to the fact that approximately half of female engineering graduates migrate to other professions and career choices after graduation. He called for employers to “offer more positive and enriching careers to female engineers to stay in the profession”.

Chartered engineer Majella Henchion, group resourcing lead at ESB, is an active supporter of the STEPS team. She noted that in 2016, although only 9 per cent of graduates who made application for employment to ESB were women, some 27 per cent of those eventually appointed were women. This confirms that while girls outperform boys in most State examinations, they are also judged to be more employable in many engineering roles, she said.

“Less than 40 per cent of girls are in all-girl schools, but we equally must target the larger mixed schools that teach the greater range of subjects,” she stated.

Prof David FitzPatrick, UCD Dean of Engineering, stressed the need for more role models and outlined the improving situation in the university – in 2015, some 27 per cent of first-year engineering students were female. Katie O’Neill, marketing manager of UCD College of Engineering, said that UCD’s radical new approach in its ‘Open Day for Engineering’ sessions was geared towards better gender balance. She noted that in recent years, the Final Year EGA Gold Medals have disproportionately been awarded to females. She also mentioned the EGA 2015 Autumn Panel Discussion on the Digital Economy, where 60 per cent of the speaker panel were female, and the 2016 Spring Panel Discussion on Flooding, where 40 per cent of speakers were female.

The youngest member of the Round Table, Caitlin McDonnell – a Master’s student in Structural Engineering with Architecture – described her journey towards engineering from second-level to UCD, driven by her love of mathematics.

In conclusion, EGA President PJ Rudden proposed a six-point plan with initiatives that can be pursued either individually or collectively by Engineers Ireland and UCD EGA. Engineers Ireland is set to review this plan and suggest amendments or additional items:

  • Encourage an increasing number of engineering graduates into the Irish economy, regardless of gender;
  • Focus more on the largest mixed second-level schools to encourage both STEM subjects and gender balance;
  • Seek greater collaboration on this issue with all other engineering institutions, third-level colleges and employers (especially corporate members of UCD EGA and Engineers Ireland);
  • Strive for as close to 50 per cent gender balance of principal participants at public events, in advertising opportunities and on brochures – as with Engineers Ireland CEng TV adverts and recent UCD EGA events;
  • Encourage female engineering graduates to act as role models visiting second-level schools through STEPS and third-level colleges to describe their interesting everyday work and to speak to career-guidance teachers;
  • Better targeting of influencers like media, career-guidance officers, teaching organisations and parents.

For further information on UCD, EGA, contact PJ Rudden on 087 2349556.

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UCD Engineering Graduates Association (EGA) recently hosted a round-table discussion on gender balance with Engineers Ireland, chaired by Engineers Ireland’s first female president Prof Jane Grimson (1999-2000) and attended by the director general of Engineers Ireland, Caroline Spillane. Spillane outlined the huge spread of the STEPS (Science, Technology, Engineering Programme...