33% by 2020: How we are closing Engineering’s gender gap
7 March 2018
This International Women's Day, we are reaffirming our goal to see much higher percentage of women in our first-year cohort by 2020.
The Faculty of Engineering is committed to fostering an inclusive environment – one that mirrors the wealth of diversity we see in our day-to-day lives. In conjunction with International Women's Day, we are reaffirming our goal to see 33% women in our first-year student cohort by 2020.
Professor Rosalind Archer, one of the champions of this goal, states, “our 33% goal is not going to be an easy one to reach in a relatively short time frame. It is something very few comparable faculties in the Western world have achieved. However, we believe that a time when our faculty is growing is the right time, to challenge ourselves to commit to initiatives that make our student intake more reflective of wider society.”
A study published last year in Science showed that “women are underrepresented in fields whose members cherish brilliance”, a stereotype enforced by girls as young as six years old, as they question their own intelligence. Recently, a MYOB report revealed that the number of women in technology – in spite of its position as New Zealand’s fastest-growing sector – is in decline compared to other industries such as business, healthcare, politics and education. As an educational institute, we believe that we are not immune to these realities and see it as our responsibility to be pioneers of cultural change.
Dean of Engineering Professor Nic Smith affirms, “engineers and the technology they are developing play an increasingly central role in all our lives, affecting how we live, communicate and sustain ourselves. This opens up new opportunities in diverse fields such as Biomedical, Software and Environmental Engineering. It is critical that we are training a generation of highly talented and diverse students who will lead these developments. We will only be able to achieve this by increasing the number of women studying to be engineers.”
Change can come from the top, so we keep up our record of retaining prolific, inspiring academic staff. Today, we would like to celebrate the recognisable leaders in our academic roster, including:
- Deputy Dean (Research) Professor Bryony James, whose studies into the complexity of food once gained notoriety for her study on pizza cheese. Her research evolved into a highly-regarded Marsden-funded project last year, and her commitments to creative classroom engagement is perhaps why our students know her best as a top teacher.
- Professor Rosalind Archer, whose roles involve holding the title of our Head of Department of Engineering Science, holding the Mercury Chair in geothermal reservoir engineering, and is a Director of the Geothermal Institute and New Zealand Oil & Gas. She is also a 2016 winner of the prestigious Deloitte Energy Engineer of the Year award, a recent NEXT Woman of the Year finalist and a distinguished speaker at the 2018 global Women in Data Science Conference aimed at inspiring and educating women about the field.
- Professor Margaret Hyland, who juggles responsibilities as the Associate Director of our Light Metals Research Centre and as MBIE’s Chief Scientist.
- Associate Professor Catherine Watson, Dr Rashina Hoda and Dr Kelly Blincoe, Software Engineering lecturers who are pushing for industry engagement with students, and for girls to become part of an increasingly essential industry.
- Dr Eva Hakkanson, the world’s fastest female motorcycle racer, a green technology enthusiast, and a lecturer in our Mechanical Engineering department.
- Dr Heide Friedrich, the leader of our Water Engineering research group, Water Engineering laboratory, Deputy Head (Research) of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and an integral part to the formation of our annual ‘Systems Week’ for Part IV students.
- Dr Jenny Malmstrom, whose Marsden-funded research into growing stem cells earned her the title of Rutherford Discovery Fellow.
This list does not even begin to cover the other research, teaching, academic and support staff throughout the faculty, and we want to make their achievements visible, both within and outside University. We hope to help young engineers find their way here through the myriad of journeys we have already experienced by telling our stories and bringing elements of Engineering to them. Each year, we run core outreach programmes such as Engineer Her Future and Enginuity Day; both showcase the excitement and range offered by an Engineering degree to crowds of high school-aged girls. We now have established a partnership with GirlBoss so that we can educate more school students.
We tackle society’s big challenges with a holistic approach, understanding the importance of student life outside the classroom. Our core outreach events involve real Engineering students and staff, led by dedicated Women in Engineering adviser, Dr Naomi Fleming, who also supports our Women in Engineering Network (WEN) throughout the year. The student-led group consists of both undergraduate and postgraduate students who play a strong part in enabling each other to succeed academically, professionally and personally.
“We’re proud to be celebrating the milestone that is WEN’s 25th anniversary this year, and alongside the roster of events we have planned, we hope to continue our strong record of engaging with young women and encouraging them to pursue pathways in Engineering. We do this not just by offering support, but by allowing women to see themselves in their successful peers”, says Dr Fleming.
The newly-released 2018 QS University Rankings by Subject shows that we have retained our position as New Zealand’s top university and are notably the only institute in the country above the 90th place. This is a position of privilege and we strive to continuously improve our output of high-impact research, great teaching, workplace-ready graduates, and to open doors to the many opportunities in Engineering, for everyone.
Our latest cohort of Part I students boasts a significant rise in women enrolling in Engineering – this is our highest ever, at over 27%, a sign that we are heading in the right direction.