Teaching remote villages in South East Asia how to repair vital solar panels or developing composting toilets to improve sanitation and health in developing economies are two humanitarian applications of engineering that could help arrest the decline in girls choosing engineering as a career and attract more girls to STEM subjects.
Research by Engineers Without Borders, supported by The Origin Foundation, also revealed how attracting more girls to engineering and lifting the diversity of the sector could have a profound impact on how engineers approached challenges.
Origin and the Origin Foundation have been working to engage more girls in STEM and guide them into traditionally male-dominated careers such as engineering through support for initiatives such as the University of NSW’s Engineering Girls Day Out and CSIRO’s STEM professionals in Schools Program, which helps teachers bring real-life STEM experiences into schools.
While the numbers themselves may be declining, EWB’s own experience may hold the key to turning the tide. The research found while just 12 per cent of engineers are female, 41 per cent of EWB members are women – driven in part by the organisation’s focus on humanitarian or social projects.
EWB runs three programs – the Humanitarian Engineering Research Program, Humanitarian Design Summit Program, and the School Outreach Program. While the research and design programs operate in Australia and overseas, the school program runs workshops in Australia, reaching more than 3,800 students in 120 regional schools in 2017 highlighting inspiring career options in engineering.
Origin Energy engineer Jenny Mackay volunteers with the school program and said: “It can spark an idea, change in outlook, or reshape the direction of someone’s life”.
Sean Barrett, head of The Origin Foundation said drawing more girls into engineering would enhance the diversity of thinking and solutions.
“Engineers are society’s problem solvers, but there are too few female engineers,” said Barrett.
“Without diversity we get silo thinking, and male biases. There’s evidence emerging that women in developing countries understand that engineering solves immediate infrastructure problems of sanitation, clean water, housing, health. They also see the link between engineering broadly and building economic capacity which means jobs and social stability.”