The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-11823, in the name of Gillian Martin, on welcoming women in engineering day. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament welcomes that Women in Engineering Day is on 23 June 2018; notes that it highlights the work needed to go further and faster to meet the target of 140,000 women engineers by 2022; understands that only 9% of engineers and 18% of the tech workforce are female; notes the view that action must come from the industry and other stakeholders to make the changes within the sector; believes that there are a number of positive action measures that can be taken, such as outreach, placements, training and activities, which target women and girls, and notes the calls for the industry to meet the future needs of the engineering and technology sectors.
Next week, on 23 June, it is women in engineering day. I am looking forward to a debate that celebrates the women who work in technology and engineering, and I am excited that I will hear other members tell Parliament about the young women all over Scotland who are the engineers, technicians and designers of the future.
I had hoped to spend the majority of my speech today concentrating on the positive efforts to change the engineering and tech landscape, rather than dwell on the fact that currently only 9 per cent of the engineering workforce and 18 per cent of the tech workforce are female.
However, it is important to recognise the problem of underrepresentation, and gently but assertively to suggest what needs to be done, and to highlight systemic failings, as we do so.
The fact that the debate is oversubscribed shows how important the issue is, but I want to start by sounding a note of caution. I am a big believer in the power of women-only spaces to facilitate confidence and change, but I am also a believer that a concerted effort to have 50:50 representation in forums in sectors that struggle to get women involved is important in terms of effecting changes in attitudes and perceptions. If you cannot see it, you will think you cannot be it, and putting on a leaflet a photograph of a woman in a hard hat is certainly not enough.
In the spirit of gentle but assertive suggestion, I want to mention my disappointment that last week, in my neck of the woods, there was an event on the future of the oil and gas industry at what is, to my mind, one of Scotland’s most forward-looking and innovative universities, the Robert Gordon University, for which 44 speakers were booked, of whom only two were women. What kind of example is that setting to young women and girls who want to get into the sector, and how are we supposed to encourage women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects—and, specifically, the oil and gas sector—if the industry itself perpetuates that kind of gender-segregated image and environment?
I know that there are great women working in oil and gas. It is not enough to say that we need change, or to run programmes to encourage women into engineering and have them as an add-on. The sector needs to include and promote women wherever possible in order to effect real change. People in the sector need to look at every public engagement and every workplace and ask, “What image of the industry are we presenting?”
On a positive note, there are organisations that exist specifically to facilitate change, and which work hard with the sector and education bodies to do that. Those include Equate Scotland, representatives of which are in the gallery with tech mentors from Amazon. I believe that we are on an upward trajectory, thanks to the concerted efforts of organisations such as Equate and, in the United Kingdom, the Stemettes, as well as Skills Development Scotland. However, there is a steep climb ahead if we are to reach the goal of having 140,000 female engineers by 2022. We definitely will not get to the summit without the oil and gas sector having equality of opportunity at its heart.
Getting more women and girls into engineering is not solely an equality issue; it is also about economic survival for Scotland’s engineering and tech sector, and it is a key consideration as we seek to grow Scotland’s economy. We do not know what the jobs of the future will be, but we can confidently predict that engineering, design and tech will always be at the forefront of whatever innovation drives change in the working landscape, and women must be part of that.
Last year, the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, of which I am a member, carried out an inquiry into the gender pay gap. As part of that inquiry, we looked at sectors in which occupational segregation is still an issue. The tech and engineering sector still attracts more men than women, but it cannot carry on that way, because it just will not have enough people to power its future.
The tech and engineering sector loses talent at key points on the infamous leaky pipeline. The first leak occurs in late primary school, as the notions of there being boys’ and girls’ jobs, and of gender stereotypes take hold. Then, when subject choices for highers are being made, we lose more girls. If young women manage to avoid that leak point, they might fall foul of another leak in the pipeline, which happens when choices are being made for post-school education. At the point of higher education, only 16 per cent of tech and engineering students are women—but they have, at least, managed to get past some of the leaks. However, even if a young woman has taken the STEM subjects at school, has chosen an engineering pathway post school and has entered the workplace after graduation, she might stay for only a few years in the sector, like many female engineers and tech specialists do.
In 2015-16, only about 6 per cent of engineering modern apprentices were female. For civil engineering, the figure was under 1 per cent. I am hopeful that we will see an increase year on year as a more concerted effort is made to attract girls into STEM and to encourage women returners to re-engage with the sector, and as there is more focus on companies investing in women through targeted recruitment and training, and by examining their policies and procedures through a gender lens. SSE gave to the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee’s inquiry compelling evidence that by overhauling strategies for apprentice recruitment it had increased the number of female applicants. It had to do that, because it needs technicians to replace the older workforce who are due to retire, and it needs to plug the skills gap.
At the end of last year, I was excited to be a dragon—no jokes, please, Graeme Dey—on the “Dragon’s Den” judging panel for one of the north-east’s programmes to get girls enthusiastic about technology, design and engineering. That was Shell’s “Girls in energy” programme. Girls from all over Aberdeenshire formed teams who were mentored by Shell’s graduate apprentices to come up with an idea for their community’s energy needs. It turns out that they all worked on green energy ideas and—what do you know?—green energy just happens to be one of Scotland’s growth sectors. Of course, I must also mention that Turriff academy and Mintlaw academy in my constituency did very well and were placed first and third. Before anyone says anything, I point out that there were other dragons and that I was not stacking the odds.
There are similar programmes all over Scotland. Equate Scotland’s summer placement scheme, which is called careerwise, works to place female undergraduates in paid employment with companies.
I must also pay tribute to some employers that are actively working with Skills Development Scotland to recruit female modern apprentices out of school. Earlier this year I was at Sparrows Offshore Services Ltd in Bridge of Don to meet former pupils of my old school, Ellon academy. I met Leanne Brown, who is a hydraulic technician. Leanne could have gone to university, but chose to do an apprenticeship, because Sparrows offered her the skills and partnership to enable her to progress her studies to degree stage while she was still earning. She has the potential to work all over the world with Sparrows. I also met Caroline Gill, who is a draughtsperson with Sparrows. I got a note today to say that she has passed her degree and is off to work in Singapore with Sparrows.
In March this year, I met Kerry Taylor, who is formerly of Mintlaw academy. After two years in an apprenticeship she has—I am not exaggerating—the skills to maintain and operate any part of Peterhead power station.
There are young women like them all over Scotland. I thank Equate Scotland for the excellent briefing that it gave members on the work that it does to help us to get significantly more women into engineering. I say to the companies in tech and engineering that do not know where to start when it comes to encouraging more women to apply for their apprenticeships or vacant posts, that Equate should be their first call. Its interconnect student network could be just what is needed to help those companies to get the women who will power their organisations into the future.
A number of members would like to take part in the debate. If they are all to speak, Parliament will have to agree to a motion without notice to extend, under rule 8.14.3, the debate by up to, and no more than, 30 minutes.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[
Motion agreed to.
The debate is extended. However, we are still oversubscribed and are already over time, so I might have to cut the speaking time of members in the second part of the debate.
I feel slightly guilty now, because I was asked to speak in the debate only in the past couple of hours, when Alison Harris unfortunately had to pull out. When I was asked, I thought about the topic and remembered immediately the week in which my son and daughter graduated from the University of Edinburgh. My daughter received her degree in primary education in a hall that was filled predominantly with girls, while my son received his master’s degree in civil engineering amid his predominantly male peers. I hope that, one day, my children will sit at their children’s graduations and not see such gender demarcation by subject.
Saturday is international women in engineering day. That brings with it an opportunity to highlight the fact that even though it is nearly 100 years since the creation of the Women’s Engineering Society in 1919, many of the society’s aspirations and concerns hold as true today as they did then. Progress has been slow: surveys from 2017 show that only 11 per cent of the engineering workforce is female, albeit that that is a 2 per cent increase since 2015.
However, the story is no longer about women not being able to enter engineering: 61 per cent of engineering employers say that recruitment of engineering and technical staff with the right skills is a barrier to business; 32 per cent of companies across the sector report difficulties recruiting experienced STEM staff; and 20 per cent find it difficult to recruit entrants to STEM. The opportunities exist, but we must find ways to inspire women to follow STEM careers. That is the challenge.
From where do young women draw their inspiration? Scotland has its own engineering hall of fame, so I thought that it might be a good place to start. However, only two women have made it on to that list: Anne Gillespie Shaw, who was a production engineer and businesswoman and was inducted last year, and Dorothée Pullinger, who was the first woman to be inducted, in 2012.
Dorothée Pullinger’s legacy caught my eye, because not only did she train as an engineer under her father during the first world war and become lady superintendent, managing 7,000 female war workers at Barrow, but she was the first person—certainly the first woman car designer—to see not only the need for a different design of car for women drivers, but the design and engineering solutions to bring that about commercially. She remains to this day the only person to design and take into production a car that was designed specifically with women drivers in mind.
What did Dorothée Pullinger think women needed in a car that men did not need? What made the car suitable? It was that the car had a rear view mirror, was smaller and lighter, had more storage space, had a raised seat and had a hand brake situated near the driver’s seat rather than under the dashboard. Does any of that sound familiar to members? It did to me. I thought, “Aha! All cars are now designed for women, thanks to a woman.”
What I love about Dorothée Pullinger is the fact that she not only designed the Galloway car and brought it into production, but won the Scottish six-day car trial by driving it. That proves that we do not just talk the talk; we also walk the walk.
Dorothée Pullinger created new training courses and apprenticeships specifically for local women. Why is that interesting and important? It is because she shortened apprenticeships from the usual five years to three years, because it was considered that girls were better at attending and quicker learners than boys. Perhaps that is something for current employers to note.
Dorothée Pullinger achieved that, and more, at a time when men dominated engineering and industry, and when working women were often regarded as stealing men’s jobs. She was a woman of remarkable resilience and talent. She was a leader in recruiting women into engineering in wartime; she was awarded an MBE at the age of 26; she was a founder of the Women’s Engineering Society in 1919 and was accomplished engineer in her own right; and she was a pioneer and inspiration for women in engineering.
The message to women now is that we can change things. People might not notice or know about that, but they might be affected by it every day of their lives.
At a data science event in Edinburgh, I confessed in my speech that I had not expected to enjoy the day, but it was, in fact, one of the most informative, inspiring and interesting events that I have been to. I encourage women to get into engineering.
I remind members that I am the parliamentary liaison officer to the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, because I will speak about schools today.
I thank my friend and colleague Gillian Martin for bringing the debate to the chamber ahead of women in engineering day this Saturday. In the past 60 years, the types of job that the economy requires have shifted markedly. Consider the Rothes pit in my constituency. When the Queen opened it in 1958, it was meant to provide coal until 2070. The colliery was the main reason why the town of Glenrothes was built. However, just four years later, the pit shut down.
Sixty years ago, the work that was undertaken in the pits of Fife and across the country was deemed to be not appropriate for people like me. Specialist mining engineers were required to design and develop coal mines, but women were kept away from the process. In 1958, the Queen defied the age-old miners’ superstition that meant that women were not allowed to visit the pit. Coal mining and engineering were heavily gendered. Perhaps that historic imbalance is one reason why engineering continues to display such a gender divide.
Today, just 4 per cent of Fife College’s engineering students are women. In 2018, there remains a stereotypical preconception about what being an engineer means. Lesley MacRury, who is an engineer with Scottish Power, has said that
“Engineering really isn’t about hard-hats and sitting down with rulers anymore”.
For her, the problem starts at secondary school with gendered subject choices, which I witnessed as a class teacher not so long ago. Schools have a huge role to play in dispelling stereotypes and promoting STEM subjects.
In March, the Government announced the STEM bursary of up to £20,000 for career changers to complete teacher training in STEM-based subjects. Fife College has started an engineering for girls programme, which has attracted more than 5,000 female school pupils this academic year. All that is promising, but only 2 per cent of automotive engineering students at the college are women.
As a former school teacher, I am only too aware of the potential disconnect between school-based qualifications and those that our further and higher education institutions offer. That was highlighted recently by the work for the Government’s “The 15-24 Learner Journey Review” report that was published last month.
Diageo is one of the largest employers in my constituency, with its Cameronbridge distillery and its bottling plant situated in Leven. Since 2006, Diageo has recruited 158 modern apprentices. Across the country, the company has 78 apprentices who are working towards qualifications in a range of areas—from mechanical engineering to electrical engineering and coppersmith engineering, as well as in science and technology. Of its modern apprentices, 31 per cent are female, and the company hired its first female coppersmith engineer—Rebecca Weir—last year.
Some years ago, a fellow Fifer—Gillian McBride—was an engineering apprentice with Diageo. She had a keen interest in maths, physics and technical subjects at school, but was not sure what she wanted to do after school. At the age of 24, she was attracted to a future in engineering and began her journey with Diageo as a modern apprentice. In her third year there, she was streamed into electrical engineering, and she went on to work weekend shifts on the production line as an electrician. From there, her career has continued to progress—she gained experience of project management through having a team-leader role before entering her current position in the company as a deployment manager.
For the past six years, Gillian has been sponsored by Diageo to study a course at university: she recently graduated with a degree in engineering management. Gillian’s on-going success and Diageo’s positive apprenticeship programme are encouraging signs for women’s future in engineering in Scotland, but there is still work to be done.
If we accept that subject choice in school is where career choice is decided, we cannot ignore the recommendations of Equate Scotland’s “Rising to the Challenge” report. Equate calls for more regular talks and practical sessions from the industry for school pupils; for science ambassadors and gender advocates in every school; and for gender and equality classes in schools.
Engineering has certainly changed since the days of the Rothes pit, but age-old stereotypes of engineering persist. Gillian Martin’s motion calls for action from within the industry, and I agree. We need action from all fields—schools, colleges and the engineering sector itself—to change the gender imbalance.
I consider myself duly warned, Presiding Officer.
As others have done, I thank Gillian Martin for bringing this important discussion to the chamber.
As Gillian Martin’s motion correctly points out, the Government’s ambition is to have 140,000 female engineers in Scotland by 2022—a goal that I fully support. However, can the minister, when he sums up, tell us where we have got to with that? According to research carried out by Equate Scotland, only 11 per cent of Scottish engineers are women. Close the Gap tells us that 10 per cent of managers in STEM businesses are women. Perhaps the minister could tell us what the real numbers are rather than simply the percentages. Further, given that women make up 49 per cent of Scotland’s full-time workforce, it would be useful to understand how we will improve those figures in four short years and what action the Scottish Government is taking.
I acknowledge that encouraging women into the engineering workforce starts long before a job is advertised. Far more needs to be done to educate girls from a young age that engineering is an option for them, that they have the same opportunities as their male classmates to go into STEM careers and that they can advance within those careers to the same extent as their male counterparts.
I am delighted to see Talat Yaqoob from Equate Scotland in the gallery, because Equate’s research has helped us to understand the challenge. Equate found that, regardless of academic capabilities, girls’ interest in STEM subjects decreases dramatically as they go through school. Female students in secondary schools are often stereotyped into certain subjects and guided away from others. Those female students who dare to break the mould and study STEM subjects often find themselves quite isolated. They are the only girl in a class full of boys, being taught by a male teacher and learning about the work, predominantly, of male engineers, scientists and mathematicians.
It is harder to be what we cannot see, and striving to be in an industry with minimal female role models can be demoralising. It is therefore hardly surprising that only 16 per cent of female students in higher education are studying engineering and technology degrees, despite the fact that 57 per cent of higher education students are female. It is even more disappointing that only 27 per cent of those female STEM graduates stay in the industry.
The failure to encourage women and girls into engineering and other STEM subjects means that we have been creating unintentional barriers for generations of Scottish women, segregating Scotland’s workers, and denying Scottish industry the level of innovation and creativity that would undoubtedly be the result of a more diverse workforce. How can we, as a Parliament and a country, brag of Scotland’s first-class industries—how can we convince others that we deserve a place on the world stage—when a huge proportion of our population is being excluded from one of our most prominent industries and pigeonholed into careers that are stereotypically attached to their gender?
I accept that the task is a big one but, when we consider the skills shortages in engineering, we see that it is absolutely worth doing. I would encourage the cabinet secretary—I mean the minister; I have just promoted him—not just to achieve the target of 140,000 female engineers but to surpass it.
I am delighted to be here today to celebrate women in engineering day and I thank my colleague Gillian Martin for securing debating time. The issue has strong resonance for me, as I am passionate about increasing the number of girls and young women who are studying STEM subjects and, importantly, staying on to work in that sector.
Currently, the numbers of girls and young women studying and working in STEM areas make for disheartening reading. I was on the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee when we did the inquiry into the gender pay gap and, through that, it became clear that girls and their parents are influenced by gendered occupational segregation, which means that young women are pushed into more traditionally female-friendly subjects and jobs. We need to do more about that. Girls feel that they do not belong studying STEM subjects, but I am here to tell any young women or girls who might be watching that they do belong. If they want to study chemical engineering or be a software engineer, that is exactly what they should do and they should not let anybody stop them from doing that.
We need to reflect on the fact that, to a large extent, our culture minimises the contribution of women. If I were to ask members to name influential engineers or scientists, how many of them would be women? Would they choose Patricia Bath, who developed the technology for laser cataract surgery; Yvonne Brill, who developed satellite propulsion technology; Mary Somerville, the Scottish mathematician and astronomer; or Marion Ross, the physicist who became the first director of the University of Edinburgh’s fluid dynamics unit? The situation needs to change. We need to celebrate female success in STEM, which will feed into more women making the choice to study and work in that sector.
I am a fan of the Myers-Briggs personality indicator. It was developed by two women—Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers—as a way for women to work out which careers might suit them. It is a free test that can be taken online, and I have found the results to be really accurate and helpful for finding out what different personality types might enjoy in their work. If young women are not sure about what career might suit them and have not done the test, it might be worth looking into.
Equate recently released the report “Rising to the Challenge”, which identified that having science ambassadors and regular talks and workshops by STEM industry representatives at primary and secondary school levels are particularly important in encouraging girls into STEM areas. It is fantastic that there are groups and programmes around Scotland facilitating that.
The women in STEM campaign has developed the Stemettes social enterprise that connects young girls with STEM role models, which is great. If people would like to know more about that, the hashtag that is used is #lassiesinSTEM.
I was encouraged to see that Edinburgh College, which h as a campus in my constituency, has a college ambassadors initiative as part of its new gender action plan. The initiative is led by female students who act as role models to young girls at school who are considering careers in design and digital technology. Edinburgh College also has the primary 7 STEM inspiration programme, which teaches gender-balanced cohorts STEM subjects with the aim of normalising the idea of girls studying those subjects.
In March, I initiated a STEM day, which included a coding workshop in partnership with Microsoft Scotland and Cortex Worldwide, at Holyrood high school in my constituency, because I believe in the positive effect that that type of direct encouragement can have on girls.
We should do all that we can to support and encourage girls and young women, and give them as many opportunities in STEM as possible. They will do the rest.
I congratulate my colleague Gillian Martin on bringing the important matter of women in engineering to the attention of Parliament.
Recent figures show a huge disparity in female participation in the engineering sector. As other members have said, only 11 per cent of engineering professionals in the UK are female. That is the lowest percentage in Europe, while countries such as Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus manage around 30 per cent. They do not have parity either, but they have achieved a much higher percentage than we have.
We probably know the historical and cultural reasons for that disparity, as engineering was—and perhaps still is—seen as a male-oriented profession. The oily rag mentality still persists, which helps to push many talented young women away from science and engineering as a result.
Research that was conducted by the American Association of University Women points to a range of environmental and social hurdles, such as damaging stereotypes, the influence of gender bias and the climate of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities—it sounds all too familiar. That is a huge loss to science, research and innovation and we need to do more to turn it around.
However, all is not lost. The wonderful Kilmarnock engineering and science society has met in my constituency for the past six years under the stewardship of Professor Danny Gorman. The society was set up to provide a focus on science for school students and to encourage young women in particular to come along to hear about the wonderful achievements of women, some from Kilmarnock, who are leading in their field of science and engineering. Grange academy in Kilmarnock can be proud of its former pupil, the accomplished Dr Victoria Martin, who is an expert in particle physics and a reader in the subject at the University of Edinburgh, and who did impressive work with Professor Peter Higgs. We also heard about the future for electronics from Dr Carol Marsh and some amazing explanations of exoplanet atmospheres from Dr Maire Gorman.
As well as the exciting work that they do, all those women have shown our younger students that a career in science and engineering is incredibly rewarding and offers the opportunity to travel the world. After winning an inspiration award, Dr Marsh said:
“We have to inspire girls to get into engineering, we have to encourage them to stay in engineering, and promote engineering as a wonderful career.”
Currently, we need to increase the number of people with engineering skills; recent estimates are that there is an annual shortfall in those vital skills of about 40,000. There is much we can and ought to do to, first, to encourage women to pursue their scientific interests and to show them that the field is one that they can thrive in. An invaluable way of showing women and girls that they can excel in engineering is to highlight the examples of women past and present who have done just that. The brilliant women who have kindly delivered their lectures to the Kilmarnock engineering and science society have given us the link that so many of our talented young women students need. Real-life examples from women who have made their way in science and engineering really help young women to overcome the self-doubt and the misplaced stigma that many have that engineering is just not for them. We should bring more of those inspiring examples to the direct attention of women and girls through that kind of outreach. The motion rightly values outreach as a tool for improving equality and I am fortunate to have some examples of that working effectively in my constituency.
My background is software engineering; although that wonderful profession still needs many more men and women to take it up, there has been a steady but encouraging upward trend in the number of female students who are taking up degree courses in computer science. However, the male to female ratio is still worryingly around 80 to 20.
I congratulate Gillian Martin once again on bringing this matter to our attention today and I look forward to hearing the remaining speeches from members.
I congratulate Gillian Martin on bringing the debate to the chamber.
The attention that has been paid in recent years to opportunities for women in STEM careers has been welcome. For too long, there has been not so much a gap as a chasm between the numbers of men and women entering those professions. The efforts of the Women’s Engineering Society will be welcomed across the chamber; this is the fourth national women in engineering day across the UK and there is now an international dimension with events spanning the globe. Next year, the Women’s Engineering Society will celebrate its 100th anniversary. What better celebration could be imagined here in Scotland than looking forward to a brighter future for women, not only in engineering but across the STEM professions?
When the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee considered the gender pay gap, it was clear that occupational segregation remains one of the most significant barriers to more equal pay between men and women in the workplace. Those divisions have become self-perpetuating, because a lack of representation in certain professions or subjects is itself a barrier for those who may be in a position to enter them. Last October, in a debate on the gender pay gap that was led by the committee, I spoke of how early and clear those distinctions can be in the minds of even very young children, which has the effect of narrowing horizons in ways that can endure for life. As the Scottish Government’s STEM strategy recognises, the outcome has been female underrepresentation in STEM subjects that begins in school, runs through colleges and modern apprenticeships and ends with the professional segregation that remains in place today. Therefore, it is welcome that the Women’s Engineering Society is playing its part by bringing to attention the pioneering women in the sector and creating role models for the next generation.
The Scottish Government’s strategy spoke of joint action between agencies, as well as action at all levels from primary education to the broad general education component of secondary education and then into the senior phase, which is a positive step. I feel strongly that opportunities in those areas have to be a core part of careers education, but considerable gaps exist between strategic direction and what is delivered on the ground. We must also consider the impact of policy on the opportunities for reskilling. In many cases, the opportunities have narrowed in recent years as further education has been cut.
In my recent members’ business debate on apprenticeship week, I welcomed some of the work that has been done in recent years to increase the headline number of women in modern apprenticeships. However, behind those figures, the divisions between individual apprenticeship frameworks remain extremely concerning.
I remain of the view that the target in the developing the young workforce strategy to
“reduce to 60 per cent the percentage of Modern Apprenticeship frameworks where the gender balance is 75:25 or worse by 2021” is not ambitious. It is a concession that the majority of frameworks will remain enormously gender divided. The fact that SDS is clearly bringing forward events to encourage young women into STEM careers is positive, but it risks being a piecemeal approach without the resource to reach across Scotland. We must create approaches that can bring the whole spectrum of careers and opportunities to every pupil in every school.
I look forward to the expansion of foundation apprenticeships and I give credit to Jamie Hepburn for his commitment to expand the range of frameworks that will be available across Scotland in future years. I hope that the inclusion of STEM frameworks, particularly those in engineering, from the beginning demonstrates a willingness to use those apprenticeships to build skills in that area. By getting into all schools across Scotland and showing pupils more directly the careers that can exist, we all stand to benefit.
As we celebrate this year’s women in engineering day, we have a great opportunity to point to the achievements of women in the industry, to build awareness and to help aspiration. I commend the number and range of businesses that have been involved as sponsors or in organising events. However, to make engineering more inclusive, policy must be ambitious and reach all women at all stages of their lives across all parts of Scotland.
I, too, congratulate Gillian Martin on securing this excellent debate. I will concentrate on two of the aspects that are referred to in the motion: positive action measures and industry outreach. On the latter point, next week I will meet ScotRail, which is actively recruiting women for apprenticeships in engineering. I thank ScotRail for setting that example.
However, the biggest example that I will mention is a fantastic project in my constituency. The FemEng student network was established in 2013 by Ellen Simmons, a biomedical engineering student at the University of Glasgow. FemEng students have been running a programme of activities and workshops, which they have taken out to schools, to promote science and engineering.
As well as the outreach project, FemEng has a number of other projects, including one called future you. FemEng believes that one of the main issues that deter females from studying, or considering studying, engineering is a lack of positive role models in the industry, as other members have mentioned. FemEng aims to bridge the gap between the university student and the industry professional to try to give students an idea of where their degree could take them. That is about getting away from the oily rag idea that Willie Coffey mentioned and showing that there are other ways to get into engineering. FemEng hosts informal networking events that it calls future you events at which successful female industry professionals and alumni are invited to give a brief presentation answering the question “How did you get to where you are now?”
FemEng also has a mentoring or buddy system that is designed to give younger FemEng students a way to direct questions about university to older students who are studying similar subjects. It is not a tutoring system, but students can ask their partner older students anything that they want, such as questions about tips on how to revise certain subjects, what a certain subject will be like, where they can get help with something, when they should start applying for internship and so on. The buddy system gives the partner student, who is in a more advanced year, the chance to make friends among the younger students and pass on tips and tricks that they have learned over the years—passing knowledge on, basically. The help that they give can involve everything from occasional messages to meetings. In return, the information can be used in applications, and FemEng helps people to fill them in. The scheme allows those involved in FemEng to help other women in engineering.
One of the proudest things that FemEng has done is FemEng Rwanda. The project was born of a desire for the group to participate in projects overseas. It is an international collaboration between the University of Glasgow’s school of engineering and the University of Rwanda’s college of science and technology.
FemEng has gone from strength to strength, and I must thank Ellen—who has gone on to other work and is now a professional engineer—and her fellow students for the drive and enthusiasm that they have put into it. The aim of the project is to open up possibilities in science and engineering as a career for young women, not only here but internationally. It offers a unique and progressive experience for everyone involved; more important, it engages young women in the opportunities that science can offer.
I have been involved with FemEng over a number of years. I have hosted events in Parliament and secured a members’ business debate, in which I and others highlighted the work that FemEng should be rightly proud of.
I am proud to have within my constituency the Angus Training Group, which the minister visited a few months ago. Since 2000, it has produced 629 engineers, who are now plying their trade all over Scotland and beyond our shores.
Of those engineers, depressingly, just 26 have been women—that is 26 over 17 years. As recruitment for this year is not quite complete, the group is unable to give me a definitive figure for 2018-19. However, it looks like there will be 43 modern apprentices, of whom only three will be women. The group wants to attract more women; it tries to attract more young women. However, the pipeline of women who come from local schools moves at a dribble.
I am grateful to my colleague Gillian Martin for securing the debate, which allows me to note, as she did, the problem that we have in my neck of the woods, but also to highlight the attempts to address it.
In preparing for the debate, I was heartened to learn that Angus Council has been taking steps in primary schools to build teacher skills in science so that teachers can motivate our young learners. In secondaries, careful analysis of gender breakdowns in STEM subjects is taking place to support the targeting in schools of interventions to encourage female engagement in science. Positive female role models in the field of science are also being highlighted.
The 1,000 girls, 1,000 futures programme is a ground-breaking, worldwide initiative that is designed to engage young women who are interested in STEM and to advance their pursuit of STEM careers through mentoring. A secondary 4 pupil from Webster’s high school in my constituency has been selected by the New York Academy of Sciences to participate in the programme. Participants are provided with a mentor, most of whom are American female academics.
Beyond that, following a successful Primary Engineer pilot in the Arbroath west cluster, the developing the young workforce programme is funding its own pilot of the project in the Kirriemuir cluster. Subject to positive evaluation, DYW Dundee and Angus is looking to roll out the project across all Dundee and Angus schools.
Primary Engineer seeks to deliver
“the development of children and young people through engagement with engineering, the promotion of engineering careers for pupils through inspiring programmes and competitions, the development of engineering skills for teachers and practitioners as a sustainable model” and work
“to address the gender imbalance in science and engineering.”
Steps are being taken.
The statistics that were provided by Dundee and Angus College ahead of the debate unequivocally reinforce the need for such actions: in the 2016 enrolment for engineering across all disciplines, there were 84 female students compared with 1,550 males. That is 5 per cent representation. The college is tackling the gender issue by sending an invitation to more than 2,500 S3 pupils for taster sessions that will cover all curriculum areas at the college. It hopes that that will go some way towards exposing the pupils to subject options and that it will lead to more girls choosing engineering. As I have indicated, we need that to happen.
Let me maintain a positive note. There should be increasing opportunities for young women and men to get into engineering in Angus in the years to come. The Tay cities deal will, I hope, lead to an engineering centre of excellence being established in Arbroath. In the past few weeks, there have also been significant Scottish Government-backed developments in Montrose, in my colleague Mairi Gougeon’s constituency. There is cause for optimism in Angus, but much work is still to be done before we can honestly say that engineering in all its guises is truly open and welcoming to all.
Gillian Martin made a noble effort to get us to focus on positive role models of women engineers, but we have failed in that, have we not? Most members spent their time talking about the difficulties of getting women into engineering and the lack of women in that profession. That is no wonder, as the figures are stark. Given the shortness of time, I do not want to rehearse those figures;
I will restrict myself to two comments on how to change that situation and what we can do about it.
First, Ash Denham said that the figures are “disheartening”. They are indeed disheartening, so it is important for us to tell ourselves—and I believe this—that we can change them. Evidence exists that the situation can be changed. Professions such as law and medicine—which is, after all, a STEM-based profession—have been transformed in recent years and have become gender balanced. Arguably, the new lawyers and doctors who are coming through are slightly predominantly women. Perhaps we should spend more time looking at why that has happened and considering why it has not happened in engineering. However, that tells us that the situation can change.
Secondly, our efforts have to be early, with young women. A number of members have referred to that in one way or another. Anyone who has worked in a school—a number of speakers have done so—and has tried to convince young women even in S1, S2, S3 or S4 that science and engineering could be for them knows how difficult that is and how strongly gendered attitudes are already embedded by that time. Jenny Gilruth spoke about the critical issue of course choice. As young women go into S4, it is incredibly difficult to get them to see that STEM subjects could be for them.
When I was at a conference late last year, I was very struck by something said by one of the other speakers. Zoe Thomson, who is a depute headteacher at Woodmill high school in Fife and who has a background in electronic engineering, spoke about what Woodmill high school had done to try to change things. It was striking how much of an effort she believed had to be made. The school has a three-year gender action plan and a huge focus on staff continuing professional development. She said that she was shocked by the degree to which many of her staff colleagues did not believe that the issue was anything to do with them. The school’s approach included workshops on addressing unconscious bias, weekly follow-ups, which she checked people were reading, work with parents and pupils, and exposing people to role models. What really struck me was that the approach also included rewriting the language and format of the school’s curriculum choice materials to degender the language and changing its curriculum choice structure to stop it squeezing young women out of STEM subjects.
We cannot afford to be gentle or assertive; we have to be serious and intensive if we are going to make the efforts that will change the situation.
I will certainly not try to be too frivolous, but I will try to rise to the challenge that Iain Gray issued and give some role models in software engineering and related activities. Girls do belong.
Ada Lovelace, who was Lord Byron’s only legitimate child, was born in 1815 and died in 1852. She was the computer programmer for Charles Babbage, who got a huge amount of money from the Government to develop the analytical machine and the calculating machine. She developed the first computer algorithm and identified the importance of branching—testing and changing the direction of a program depending on the results, which is key to how software works today. She was a mathematician and a computer person. She was largely encouraged by her mother, because her father fled one month after she was born and she never saw him again.
On 5 October 1972, I had the immense privilege of meeting Rear Admiral Grace Hopper at the University of York. Born in 1906, she was a programmer on the US Navy mark 1 computer in 1944. That computer had a partly electromechanical system. One of her program runs failed—a moth was stuck between the contacts. The Americans call a moth a bug, and that bug is Sellotaped to her lab notes and can be seen in a New York museum; it is why we say that computer programs have bugs.
Grace Hopper did something incredibly important. She was the first person to develop a computer program that wrote computer programs. Today, we utterly depend on such computer compilers.
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper retired three times from the US Navy. She was re-recruited because she was genuinely indispensable. She finally retired at the age of 80 as the oldest ever uniformed member of the US armed services, but then went to work full-time for the Digital Equipment Corporation, where she was still working at the age of 85.
Stephanie Shirley used the name Steve professionally, so that the people she was dealing with would not know that she was female. She developed a rather deeper voice than the one she might have been born with to use when on the telephone. She founded Female International, which is one of the very successful early computer consultancies. She is still around doing good works in the House of Lords.
I turn to the original NASA computers for the orbital manned missions. In 1962, John Glenn did three hops around the earth. The computer failed for three minutes during his three orbits—only 99.95 per cent reliability was required, and failures were allowed. Thank goodness that Katherine Johnson, who was the orbital mechanical engineer responsible for the mission—or “that computer”, as such ladies were known—was there when the computer failed.
Today in the NASA Langley research center, the director, the chief scientist and the chief technical editor, Pearl Jung, are female. There are plenty of places where girls belong in engineering.
I, too, thank Gillian Martin for bringing this topic to the chamber for debate. I thank other members for their speeches, particularly Stewart Stevenson, who I find never frivolous but always enlightening. His speech included his finding someone doing good work in the House of Lords—I did not think that I would ever hear that from one of my SNP colleagues.
The debate gives us a chance to celebrate women who have made their mark in engineering. Many members have done that in the debate, so I will not rehearse all the names. However, I say to Ash Denham that I noticed that a few of her colleagues are a little nervous about the prospect of taking the Myers-Briggs test to determine whether they should be in their current career—perhaps we will all do that in secret.
I fully support international women in engineering day because it gives us that opportunity. It also gives us the opportunity to recognise the Women’s Engineering Society and the difference that it is making in its support of women in engineering, its work to encourage and promote the education, study and application of engineering, and its promotion of gender equality in the workplace.
The Government is working towards those aims. We are committed to addressing occupational segregation in the labour market in all its forms, and occupational segregation is particularly prevalent and stark in the STEM sector. That is driven by many factors, not least the fact that even when women study STEM-related subjects, that does not always lead to participation in the labour market, as Jackie Baillie said. Some 73 per cent of female graduates in STEM subjects do not enter or remain in the sector. That is a stark example of the leaky pipeline that Gillian Martin was talking about. It is a clear waste of talent and an underutilisation of a skill set—something that the country cannot afford.
We know that there is more to be done at school. We know that there is interest at primary school age. I see that very clearly in my daughter, who has been extolling the virtues of learning robotics at school and last night proudly showed me the rollercoaster that she had made using K’Nex—other brands are available, I am sure. She demonstrated admirable patience, which I certainly would not have had at that age, and I will do everything that I can to encourage her to continue with her interest.
As members said, it is our responsibility, as individuals, to encourage girls to become interested in STEM subjects at an early age and to sustain and maintain their interest—given that another part of the leaky pipeline, which is recognised in the engineering skills plan that was published in 2015, is secondary school, when girls’ interest in STEM subjects begins to drop off. The number of passes by girls in STEM higher qualifications has increased, but we know that we need to improve and we have been taking action in that regard. I am an optimist, like Iain Gray, and I think that we can improve.
We took forward the improving gender balance Scotland project with Skills Development Scotland and the Institute of Physics. The project finished at the end of March, and its interim evaluation, which has been published, reported greater awareness among teachers and senior managers of how unconscious gender bias manifests itself in activities in the school environment. The evaluation also found greater awareness among learners, who were more willing than they might have been in the past to come forward and challenge stereotyping, for example in throwaway remarks.
The evidence that the project made a difference was provided by Iain Gray when he talked about changed practice at Woodmill high school. The school was part of the project, which suggests that that is exactly the type of activity that we need to take forward. The challenge is to roll out that learning.
Another way in which we can make a difference in schools is through foundation apprenticeships, which Jamie Halcro Johnston talked about. We are committed to growing the range and number of opportunities in that regard. This year we are increasing potential starts to 2,600, from 1,200 last year, and we are committed to moving to 5,000 opportunities next year. It is important to ensure that girls pick STEM subjects in school, but if they do not do so, a foundation apprenticeship gives them another opportunity. They do not have to have chosen a STEM subject to undertake such an apprenticeship if they express an interest in working in the sector further down the line.
There is much more to be done in universities and colleges, and we heard good examples in that regard. Sandra White talked about the University of Glasgow and Jenny Gilruth talked about Fife College. The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council’s gender action plan sets out how colleges, universities and other partners must collaborate to address the gender imbalance that exists in certain subjects.
Skills Development Scotland’s equalities action plan is designed to address a range of imbalances, not least gender imbalance in modern apprenticeships. I do not shy away from the fact that we have a long way to go in that regard. That is most starkly demonstrated by the fact that if we take away construction-related frameworks, which include those on engineering, the majority of participants in modern apprenticeships are female. However, overall, 60 per cent of participants are male and 40 per cent female, which shows where the clear imbalance comes from.
I have to say that if ever there was a way of promoting the benefits of an apprenticeship to anyone, it would be for them to go along with Graeme Dey to the Angus training group, which I was very happy to do—not only to see the tremendous training that it has put in place, but to speak to its apprentices. I know that money is not the only motivating factor for a person getting into their career, but those apprentices’ earning potential not long after they finish their training is significant, and well ahead of median earnings. That could be another way in which we could promote the sector to a wider range of people.
I am up against time, Presiding Officer. I would have liked to go on to speak a little about the work we are doing with women returners projects and Equate Scotland, and the other ranges of activity that we are progressing through the workplace equality fund, the pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace working group that I chair and the fair work practice that we seek to promote more widely. However, let me say that I recognise that the road that we have to travel is still significant. We have begun to take steps, and I am determined that we will get to the end of that road to ensure that we will have far better and more equitable participation in engineering across the range of our population, so that more women can have that chance.
Meeting closed at 18:16.