Network Rail launches competition to encourage girls to seek careers in engineering

Alison Thompson, head of asset management building and structures for Network Rail’s Wales and Western region, has spent her engineering career in the railway sector.

Tuesday 23 June 2020 is International Women in Engineering Day, and Network Rail is taking the opportunity to celebrate female engineers to inspire more women and girls into engineering.

The celebration follows new research, which highlights a lack of female role models within Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) sectors.

A Network Rail survey of more than 2,000 16-21 year-olds in Great Britain, conducted by Savanta ComRes, showed that two-thirds (64%) of total participants and three quarters (77%) of young women asked felt there were not enough female role models within STEM, and just 26% of females intended to pursue careers in STEM fields (though 27% did intend to study further in a STEM area).

When participants were asked if they recognised famous names and faces of STEM figures, more than 80% were familiar with male figures such as Steven Hawking and Sir Isaac Newton, but just 18% knew of Ada Lovelace, who is credited as the first computer programmer for her visionary work in computer science in the 19th century.

Olivia Devan, a drainage asset engineer with Network Rail, takes part in a ‘People Like Me’ session with schoolgirls.

In response, Network Rail has launched a new competition, open to all children aged 5 to 14, aimed at promoting the work of female engineers and inspiring the next generation with the fantastic inventions and feats of engineering from women through history.

Alison Thompson is head of asset management building and structures for Network Rail’s Wales and Western region, which includes West London, the Thames Valley, the West and South West. She said: “I have spent, and continue to spend, a very happy and successful engineering career in the railway sector and, while the industry has made massive leaps and bounds in being a more open and attractive career for females, I recognise that there is more yet we can do.

“While I don’t feel my gender defines who I am in the workplace, when I speak with other women inside and outside the organisation and to those I mentor, I know that we are still on a journey.

“Network Rail is working hard in becoming an employer of choice for an ever-increasing amount to females and I look forward to continuing to champion engineering as an amazing opportunity for everyone to get involved in.”

Elizabeth Donnelly, Women’s Engineering Society.

Elizabeth Donnelly, chief executive officer of the Women’s Engineering Society, added: “In the 101 years since the Women’s Engineering Society was formed, there have been inspirational women in engineering.

“We have brought over 250 of them to Wikipedia on our Centenary Trail Map, including Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan, who helped design the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Tyne Bridge, Verena Holmes, who invented many medical devices including a surgeon’s headlamp, and Beatrice Shilliing, who invented a washer for Spitfire carburettors during World War II so they could chase diving Messerschmitts, helping to win the Battle of Britain.

“These are just three amazing engineers who shaped the world. We hope that many more girls will be inspired to become engineers and ‘Shape The World’ for the future”.

Loraine Martins, Network Rail.

Loraine Martins, who is director of diversity and inclusion for Network Rail, commented: “We know that more diverse gender-balanced teams are more engaged, more collaborative, more motivated and safer.

“The ambitions to develop our infrastructure and the skills shortage that our industry faces means that encouraging girls and young women to pursue careers in engineering is vital. Promoting positive female role models is a great way of providing inspiration for future generations to join us.

“From Mary Anderson, inventor of the windscreen wiper, to Marie Van Brittan Brown, who invented the home security system, there’s a host of women who have come up with inventions and engineering solutions which we simply couldn’t live without.

“I’m delighted we’re running this competition to promote their work, and I hope this will inspire young people, change perceptions and make these positive female role models more visible and relatable to the next generation of engineers.”

Competition Details:

Children are invited to consider what our world would be like without the work of a female engineer and create a poster or a story to explain their findings.

Entries will be proudly displayed on screens at Network Rail’s stations in a celebration of the impact female engineers have had on our world. One male and one female winner will also be selected, by an independent judging panel, from each of the three age groups (5 to 8, 9 to 11 and 12 to 14) to win amazing prizes.

All winners will have the chance to be inspired and ask questions to female role models in engineering. Winners from the youngest age category will also be turned into cartoon characters for a starring role in an Emily the Engineer activity book, whilst winners from the older age categories will be presented with a one-of-a-kind VIP Golden Ticket experience day at Network Rail*.

Entries close on 5 July. Visit the Network Rail website to find out more and to enter.

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