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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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The badly needed skills and talent that lie unused

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Meg made the following remarks at the 2011 WISE Awards recently. The WISE Awards are an opportunity to recognise inspiring organisations and individuals actively addressing the core principals of WISE (Women into Science, Engineering and Construction).


It’s hard to appreciate the scale of sexist remarks and outright bullying that some women experience at work. Or how they can feel so isolated they leave the profession for which they have studied and trained. We have a workplace culture which currently leads to around 70% of women with science, engineering and technology qualifications leaving, not to return.


For the UK economy this means badly needed skills and talent lie unused. In 2008, there were 620,000 female graduates of science, technology, engineering and mathematics of working age, but only 185,000 were employed in relevant occupations. In 2010 nearly 100,000 female graduates in those disciplines were either unemployed or economically inactive.


There are solutions available, policies that organisations use that help keep good women workers, policies such as flexible working and support for child care. They are already in force in those companies that recognise that they cannot afford to squander the talent and skills that women have. In addition it’s important to develop the inspirational women role models working in science and engineering who will inspire young girls.


How do we entice young people into engineering? It’s a problem for both genders but is most acute for girls due to the traditional image of engineering. I recently edited a publication with some contributions from young women recognised as role models, like the women we are recognising today. They wrote with enthusiasm about their chosen professions and I was struck by their desire to take on a challenging career that gives job satisfaction.


Many young people are not just seeking quick financial rewards, but want to make a difference. We know that girls are more likely to be attracted to a career in science or engineering if they understand how these disciplines contribute to solving some of our big problems. Incidentally this doesn’t need to mean giving up the idea of a good salary the highest earning graduates last year from Sheffield University were mechanical engineers.


Schools need to address structural issues about future careers for pupils. Children learn early just what a ‘woman’s job’ and a ‘man’s job’ are and make their choices accordingly. Once set on a particular educational path it can be hard to change and complete a new set of appropriate subjects. Schools and companies have to work harder enabling work experience sessions for pupils to help young people see for themselves the wide array of jobs in science and engineering.


At an event in Sheffield last week a number of local companies put forward their ideas on how to encourage more girls into these areas of work. Most memorable was the engineering company who described how when taking on a new female apprentice they pondered what to do about the lack of shower facilities for her. A discussion ensued with the new recruit and an agreement was reached that her first task would be to build her own shower. Problem solved.


I’m delighted to have been asked to speak today and to join in congratulating those who will make a difference, those women who will be the inspiration for the next generations of scientists and engineers.


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