...we find that women do not fall into engineering as a default choice, but have to overcome a number of barriers in order to do so...In order, therefore, to address some of these barriers we need to firstly understand them, and then be willing to take positive action to overcome them.Dawn Bonfield MBE
23 June 2021
International Women in Engineering Day 2021
Entrepreneur in Residence Dawn Bonfield shares her thoughts on the challenges towards encouraging more women to pursue careers in engineering.
International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) celebrates the amazing work of women engineers around the world, with a particular focus on encouraging more girls and young women to take up careers in engineering.
Dawn Bonfield MBE, founder of INWED, is currently based at King’s Department of Engineering as its first Entrepreneur in Residence. We spoke to Dawn about her thoughts on the challenges of encouraging greater diversity in the field, her advice to women who want to pursue engineering, and her experiences of working with King’s Engineers.
The theme for INWED21 is ‘Engineering Heroes’ – how would you define an Engineering Hero?
I would define an engineering hero as anybody and everybody who works in engineering. I am not comfortable with the idea that there is one type of person who is suited to engineering – I think that if we go down this route then we end up attracting the same type of person and don’t encourage the variety of people that we want to, in order to diversify the profession. So an engineering hero is equally the one who likes the spotlight and has done something memorable, to the one who likes the anonymity and has been part of a team effort.
What major challenges are we facing when it comes to encouraging more women to take up careers in engineering?
The challenges that we face when it comes to attracting more diversity into engineering, in my opinion, go back in part to the educational system we have. In England for instance, our options to study STEM subjects get severely limited by the GCSE and A level pathway options offered by schools, so we are already cutting down on the potential pipeline of STEM students.
The next problem is that only 20% of physics students are female, so again we drastically cut down our options of who can enter an engineering course, as we more often than not require engineering students to have secondary school qualifications in physics.
Then finally, we have a lack of good careers advice when it comes to recommending engineering to ‘non-traditional’ engineering students – so we find that women do not fall into engineering as a default choice, but have to overcome a number of barriers in order to do so. All of these things conspire to prevent women from easily entering the engineering profession. In order, therefore, to address some of these barriers we need to firstly understand them, and then be willing to take positive action to overcome them.
We need to take responsibility as an engineering sector too, and understand that getting the diversity that we say we want will not happen unless we are proactive, and one thing that would help this is having a dedicated careers service to help all of the people we inspire so well through the multiple outreach activities that take place.
What excites you about Engineering at King’s?
What excites me about engineering at King’s is the vision that we have around creating future changemakers, who will become leaders of tomorrow and address some of the big challenges we have as a people and planet today, which are represented so well by the Sustainable Development Goals. I am inspired by the strapline that we are creating ‘engineering for the benefit of humankind and the planet.’
What do you enjoy most about working with King’s students?
I have been working with King’s MSc students since January and am super impressed by the way they been able to see the big picture so well, and use their skills to propose solutions through their project work for addressing both local and global issues. King’s has a real tradition of encouraging entrepreneurs, and the entrepreneurial mindset. I think that this infiltrates all students - even those who don’t want to go on to become entrepreneurs in the traditional sense of setting up their own company - in empowering them to see themselves as changemakers, and this is exactly what I think is needed to address our current challenges.
King’s has a real tradition of encouraging entrepreneurs, and the entrepreneurial mindset. I think that this infiltrates all students [by] empowering them to see themselves as changemakers, and this is exactly what I think is needed to address our current challenges.Dawn Bonfield MBE
What is your top piece of advice for women who want to pursue engineering?
I would say that this profession needs you now more than ever before – we currently have a shortage of women in engineering, as we all know, and this is all the more reason to enter the profession. And when you do so, be empowered to bring your own identity and perspective with you – own the space and don’t worry about trying to fit in with what you see as ‘the norm’. This is when we need to be different, disruptive, and diverse – because that’s where new ideas come from. King’s is certainly a University that will encourage you to explore these ideas, and be empowered, trusted and encouraged to be bold for the changes we need to make, and turn your vision into reality.
...be empowered to bring your own identity and perspective with you – own the space and don’t worry about trying to fit in with what you see as ‘the norm’. This is when we need to be different, disruptive, and diverse – because that’s where new ideas come from.Dawn Bonfield MBE