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Four women in engineering, one holding microphone and cradling baby, sitting on a panel discussing engineering

This Sunday 23 June is the 11th International Women in Engineering Day, led by the Women’s Engineering Society UK. To mark this important day, which has the theme ‘Enhanced by Engineering’, we discussed this year’s Durham University Empowering Engineers Symposium 2024 with Dr Beth Barnes, Assistant Professor.

Empowering Engineers 2024 was held by Durham University’s Women in Engineering Society, which was founded in 2021. The Society, open to staff and students, aims to inspire, support, and bring together those who identify as women engineers and those who support women engineers, as well as raise awareness about their achievements.

Fourteen external representatives spoke at the event from companies including WSP UK Ltd and Stanley Black and Decker, plus an internal speaker from the Department of Engineering.

What inspired you to organise the event?

According to Engineering UK (2022), only 10.5% of engineering roles in the UK were held by women in 2010, rising to 16.5% in 2021 and unfortunately in 2023, declining to 15.7%. We recognise the power of role models, and the importance of connecting students with industry and academia engineers. There’s also clear evidence that those seeking role models look for a role model of the same gender, so by providing opportunities to meet empowering women engineers, our Durham community connect with those who can further inspire and support their journeys.

What were some of the key themes in the event?

The panel discussion explored the topic of ‘The importance of intersectionality in tackling the world’s greatest engineering challenges’. With the engineers being from differing disciplines, backgrounds, and career stages, it was an interesting conversation that shared the common theme of how important a diverse engineering workforce is, as well as technical insights and knowledge.

This was followed by speed networking, which gave the speakers and attendees the opportunity to meet a wide variety of likeminded individuals and gain a thorough understanding of different viewpoints of women in engineering.

What are some key highlights from the event?

The panel discussion was wonderful. It was raw, open and honest, with nothing being a taboo subject. Our audience asked fantastic questions and our panel answered the questions head on.

The event was a safe space for open conversations, providing an opportunity to practise networking and communication skills, which are vital for graduate jobs and the future. It was also a platform to showcase different career stories, with an aim to include a diverse set of role models and represent as many individuals as possible.

In our post-event survey, overall, 100% were satisfied. We also measured skills improvement across five skills, and it was great to see that everyone felt they’d gained something and improved their skills. It was fantastic to see so many smiling, empowered faces.

Do you have plans to host similar events in future?

Since the Society was founded in 2021, we have hosted over 30 events and are currently planning our bi-weekly programme of events for the next academic year. These sessions will feature aspirational role models from varied backgrounds, disciplines, and career stages.
We also host hands-on workshops around careers, such as CVs and LinkedIn headshots. Alongside inspirational and practical-focused sessions and workshops, we’ve also held sessions with therapy dogs and mindfulness training.

In September 2024, we will host a North East International Women in Engineering Day celebration event (details to follow). We will also be hosting another similar event to the Empowering Engineers Symposium in 2024-25.

Advice to your younger self

During the event, attendees were asked to write advice to their younger selves on postcards, such as:

  • “If someone can do it, then you can do it.”
  • “Trust your instincts to try new things.”
  • “Believe in yourself. You can do it.”

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