Innovation is blind to gender and special skills does not allow for prejudice. Nowhere was this more evident than at the third iteration of the Faculty of Engineering at the North-West University’s (NWU’s) Femmegineering workshop.
Participants from North West, Gauteng and Free State was shown why a career in engineering might just suit them like a glove. Although the industry is predominantly male orientated, initiatives such as Femmegineering is paving the way to a more balanced industry.
According to Dr Leenta Grobler, project manager and senior lecturer at the School of Electrical Electronic and Computer Engineering, the main factor inhibiting more female engineers is the lack of visible female engineers. In short, learners need to see more female engineers in prominent positions as role models.
“We’ve heard from the industry that female engineers do not struggle once they are in the workplace, the obstacle is getting them interested in the profession,” says Prof Grobler. “Especially in previously disadvantaged communities learners aren’t exposed to successful female engineers. You see female lawyers and doctors on television, but you don’t see engineers. There is also the perception that engineering is a ‘dirty’ job where a lot of heavy lifting is required. Sometimes that is the case, more often than not that’s not the case.”
She continues by saying that: “Engineering is traditionally viewed as a male dominated industry. Currently, only one in every 10 engineers in South Africa, are women. While this statistic holds true for the entire engineering industry, this ration is presumed to be even smaller in the MerSETA sub-sectors. At the NWU over the past three years, the female cohort of engineering students comprised, on average, 17% of the total engineering headcount. If only students likely to end up in the MerSETA sub-sectors are considered, this percentage drops to 11%, with an alarmingly low number of only 16 female graduates entering this sector.”
A few years ago a number of female lecturers at the Faculty of Engineering decided to remedy the situation.
“We wanted to celebrate Women’s Day by inviting some girls from the community to listen to a speaker, but we realised that they might find that a tad boring,” explains Dr Grobler. “As it was matric farewell season we decided to hold a fashion parade with high tea as part of the event. The second Femmegineering event was held over a Friday and Saturday morning and entailed fun projects whilst the third event took place over an entire Saturday with a function on the Saturday night.”
More than 200 learners from communities such as Ikageng, Mahikeng and Klerksdorp attended the event. A bus for transportation was organised and all their accommodation was covered by MerSETA and the faculty.
The next month will see the faculty launch the Smart Manufacturing competition. Girls from communities across the country will be invited to join the event.
“Every community has unique problems that we are not always aware of. We don’t always understand the challenges they face. The girls will partake in a week of tutoring where after a group will be selected to attend the Girls in Tech conference in San Francisco.”