‘Beeting’ down the barriers (Day 63)

A group of 8 female Chemical Engineering students from Strathclyde University spending the day at the Newark site.

A group of eight female Chemical Engineering students from the University of Strathclyde spend the day at British Sugar’s Newark site.

When you’re responsible for processing 7.5 million tonnes of sugar beet each year to make one million tonnes of sugar annually, you’re always on the look out for engineering talent – regardless of their gender.

But to get the best engineering talent doesn’t just happen, especially if the objective is to encourage more women into the profession. It takes time, effort and commitment.

I saw a great example of this recently by British Sugar, who invited eight female chemical engineering graduates from the University of Strathclyde to learn about engineering opportunities in the sugar beet industry.

Part of the day involved talking to fellow graduates on British Sugar’s own graduate programme and a chance to tour their Newark facility in England.

The day was typically inspired by Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) – an excellent UK campaigning organisation who want to increase the number of women involved in science, technology, maths and engineering occupations to 30 per cent by 2020.

The good people at WISE will tell you that leadership from the very top is needed to make change on this scale. A great example of this is British Sugar’s managing director, Richard Pike.

Richard says: “As a business we know the importance of harnessing and nurturing talent, but it’s clear that women are not well represented at a senior level in our industry. For me, this is a huge missed opportunity and something we need to understand and address.

“Almost half of female engineering graduates leave the field after university, so it’s crucial that we support organisations like WISE and hold open days like these so we can highlight the wide range of engineering careers that are available to them.”

IChemE too is making a contribution to improving diversity in chemical engineering. We recently published a ten point pledge to make small, but important progress across many aspects of our work:

  1. Encourage IChemE special interest groups and regional member groups to ensure that over the course of a year, there are male and female invited speakers at events.
  2. Recruit female role models to support IChemE’s media work worldwide across different regions and different industry sectors.
  3. Use IChemE’s awarding winning schools campaign – whynotchemeng – to break down barriers and stereotypes preventing more women entering engineering. The campaign already reaches over 4,000 schools with 650 volunteers (39 per cent women) throughout the UK. This provides a diverse perspective of the variety of careers that women can pursue.
  4. Publicly support International Women’s day in 2015 and other events relevant to women in STEM careers.
  5. Establish a working group to monitor diversity challenges.
  6. Publish case studies of women in chemical engineering on IChemE’s website and other media such as whynotchemeng.
  7. Use social media to follow and support organisations and campaigns designed to tackle gender issues on science, maths, engineering and technology.
  8. Produce five news stories or press releases highlighting the achievements of women in engineering.
  9. Use IChemE’s second female President, Judith Hackitt CBE, as a role model for ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ in engineering.
  10. Engage with senior chemical engineers to highlight and share good practice and identify what employers are doing and how diversity in the workplace benefits them.

We hope members and non-members will be able to support this important work. Thanks for reading my blog.

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Do you work with any inspirational female engineers? Nominate them for a WISE Award.

One thought on “‘Beeting’ down the barriers (Day 63)

  1. Two points
    Point one – one of the first acts if the Irish Free State was to make itself independent in sugar. Four sugar factories were built to process sugar beet. Sadly they are now all closed due to modern economics.

    Point Two – the pharmaceutical industry seems to have plenty of women engineers. I have often wondered if the “clean” image or the connection with health has had an influence on this. I think it would be worth looking at the sectors that attract women and try to understand what makes a difference.

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