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If we want a sustainable world we need more female engineers

March 22, 2020

Achieving this would mean that future generations have more role models.

6 min read

This story originally appeared on World Economic Forum

If we want a sustainable world we need more female engineersIf we want a sustainable world we need more female engineers

Half of the world's population is made up of women. Faced with this panorama, it is clear that they need the same resources, opportunities, since they face the same challenges – often disadvantaged – as the other half.

Despite this, far fewer women are involved in the design and development of smart and sustainable technology-based solutions that would allow us all to improve our lives.

When engineering is essential to achieving our global sustainable development goals by 2030 , and when equality is our ultimate goal, engineering must have as diverse a profile as possible; Something to keep in mind, as UNESCO celebrates its first world engineering day on March 4.

Attracting and supporting more female engineers is for the benefit of all as it increases the potential to develop inclusive and innovative solutions to the complex problems facing the world.

For example, it was an engineer – Stephanie Kwolek – who discovered the Kevlar bulletproof fiber, which now protects all the soldiers in the world, and it was Josephine Cochrane who invented the dishwasher. Many of these women have been ignored when filing patents and awarding awards to their supervisors, although their contributions have transformed the world and the lives of the people who inhabit it.

European countries record better results for women engineers

Image: RS Components

Climate change, access to clean water and sanitation, clean energy and more livable cities are current challenges that need engineers.

And in both cities and rural areas, women often bear a greater burden as a consequence, which means that we can bring unique insights into the development of high-impact solutions.

For example, in many African countries, rural women make up a large share of the workforce on farms and are responsible for collecting firewood, so energy solutions such as clean kitchen stoves designed with women in mind , would be clearly more effective.

Still, with a female representation of just 8% to 10% of engineers in countries like Kenya and South Africa, these gender-sensitive perspectives are likely to be lost.

This also occurs in more industrialized countries such as Canada and New Zealand , where women continue to be underrepresented in the field of engineering, and often represent less than a fifth of the engineering workforce.

As a result, we came to situations including tests of car accidents that were only performed with male mannequins until 2011, or drugs tested and produced with only male biology in mind.

Hiring more female engineers can improve the design of new products and solutions that benefit men and women alike.

Engineers are also needed as role models who inspire more girls – and boys as well – to study science and technology careers and nurture a new generation of technical professionals.

Many countries around the world are experiencing a deficit in engineering talent, sometimes adding to the biases that hamper half of the potential workforce.

Efforts to increase gender balance in higher education, such as the Athena-Swan initiatives, funded by the UK government, and UNESCO's STEM and Gender Advancement ( SAGA ) project to improve national policies, They have contributed to making a difference.

But even in countries like Kuwait, where women make up 60% of engineering students at university, many fail to integrate into the workplace.

Those that do have made valuable contributions to providing inclusive and sustainable solutions , such as accessories that can affordably motorize conventional wheelchairs or heat-resistant drones for firefighters. However, very few reach leadership positions, and one of the factors may be the lack of clear opportunities and support in career improvement.

In Italy, where about one in five engineers are women, I became the first and only female adviser to the National Council of Engineers just a few years ago, in 2011. It was a huge personal achievement in a male-dominated context, something It can be intimidating and cause fewer women to express their opinion or share their experience.

The number of women in the engineering sector in Italy is increasing steadily, as evidenced by the increase in the number of female engineering graduates from 16% at the turn of the century to 28% in 2017.

Having more women in higher positions will contribute to giving visibility to opportunities for female engineers, while guaranteeing more representative, inclusive and equitable executive decisions.

It is for this reason that the work of the FMOI “Women in Engineering” Committee is essential, both to recognize the contribution of women engineers and to celebrate their achievements ; and also to provide women with a global platform through periodic events and specialized networks and channels.

And we are working to collect data in order to better understand some of the barriers to women's participation in engineering.

All in all, progress towards inclusiveness in engineering remains an ongoing project.

If we have any hope that the Sustainable Development Goals will be achieved by 2030, we must use the capacities and talents of men and women alike, and that means continuing to work to create a more conducive environment for women to study, work and prosper.

Women can make an important contribution to creating a more equal world. You just have to give them the same opportunities.

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