Source: The University of Huddersfield
Source: The University of Huddersfield

Challenging gender bias within engineering programmes and jobs is crucial for creating a more inclusive and equitable society. Historically, engineering has been perceived as a male-dominated field, leading to limited opportunities and representation for women. The numbers vary in different specialisations but only 9% of mechanical engineers are female and women make up only 35% of environmental engineers and 18% of software developers. 

Addressing this prejudice and inequality can greatly benefit everyone.Diversity in engineering brings about a broader range of perspectives, experiences, and ideas. By challenging gender bias, we encourage more women to pursue engineering careers, enhancing creativity, innovation, and problem-solving within the field. In fact, there are numerous women of note who have made an impact in the field. 

If you have ever watched director Theodore Melfi’s “Hidden Figures”, you will be familiar with the trials and tribulations of Mary Jackson, an American mathematician and aerospace engineer at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). She was making waves in the 1950s, a time when black female aeronautical engineers were unheard of.  Jackson even took a demotion to open the doors to more women in the industry as Langley’s Federal Women’s Programme Manager

Other successful women engineers include the first Indian-born woman in space, Kalapana Chawla; the inventor of the first computer compiler and one of the first standardised computer languages,  Grace Hopper; and the first female Native American engineer, Mary G. Ross. 

Universities are breaking down barriers and promoting inclusivity to tap into the full potential of talented individuals, drive innovation, and build a more equitable future. Here are the three leading schools that challenge gender bias within their engineering departments:

The University of Huddersfield

There are many reasons why the University of Huddersfield is the ideal place to pursue an engineering degree. You’ll learn from the best — Huddersfield has the UK’s top three highest proportion of staff who hold doctorates, have higher degrees and hold teaching qualifications (HESA 2022). You’ll also be part of a university that’s won many awards, including the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the category for International Trade. The award recognises its achievements in fostering international links and building a campus that’s home to around 3,400 students from 100 countries.

The University is as global as it’s inclusive. Here, female engineering students have an open and supportive environment to chart their futures in academia or industry. Huddersfield’s School of Computing and Engineering was awarded the Athena Swan Bronze Award, a framework used worldwide to support and transform gender equality within higher education and research. This charter shows institutions how to achieve gender equality objectives, from representation and student progression to career development and working environment.

Pushing this agenda further at Huddersfield is its roster of academic staff inspiring the next generation of women in STEM, with the world-renowned Professor Dame Xiangqian (Jane) Jiang DBE FREng among them. She is a Professor of Precision Metrology and the Chief Scientist in the Centre for Precision Technologies (CPT), a leader in collaborative metrology research that aims to solve real-world manufacturing problems through cutting-edge metrology research in precision engineering.

Such research informs the teaching that takes place in programmes like the Mechatronic Engineering BEng(Hons), which combines mechanical skills, smart electronics, and robotics with control systems to address a range of complex engineering projects. This prepares students for a growing list of roles, thanks to mechatronic engineers getting involved in the design of functional products, ranging from large aircraft to robotic manufacturing lines.

The EnABLE initiative, which stands for Engineering in an Activity Based Learning Environment, ensures these students get to work in teams to solve real mechatronic engineering problems, which not only boosts their confidence but helps turn theory into practice. Students may undertake an optional industrial placement in their third year or when securing their first graduate role post-university.

Source: Heriot-Watt University

Marie Ogilvie Gordon began her studies at Heriot-Watt University and became the first female to gain a PhD from Munich University in the 1900s. Source: Heriot-Watt University

Heriot-Watt University

Heriot-Watt University is no stranger to trailblazing women. Mary Burton was the first woman on the School’s Board of Directors and later a Life Governor of Heriot-Watt College. She was a pioneering campaigner for educational and social reform 20 years before legislation forced Scottish universities to open their doors to women in 1889. Burton inspired many more women to take up space, including Marie Ogilvie Gordon, who began her studies at Heriot-Watt University and became the first female to gain a PhD from Munich University in the 1900s. 

The female academics at the school are leading major research projects, including tackling global issues in housing and poverty (Heriot-Watt is one of the UK’s top social and urban policy centres creating solutions that are making a difference in the world) and providing innovative solutions to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions and meet global energy demands. The institution’s teaching quality and student experience are just as exemplary, ranking 36th in the Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023

Heriot-Watt University’s School of Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPS) produces graduates with the resources to tackle the most challenging and important problems faced by society and industry today. “Our programmes are designed to meet the needs of our students and their future employers, offering the highest degree of flexibility and choice within the wide range of topics available,” says Professor Igor Guz, Executive Dean Engineering and Physical Sciences. “With a strong foundation of core strengths, we have the expertise to tackle a wide range of challenging and important problems.”

Source: Swansea University

Swansea University’s Faculty of Science & Engineering has a thriving research community. Source: Swansea University

Swansea University

In terms of student satisfaction, Swansea University is in the top 20 best UK universities (StudentCrowd University Awards 2022) and ranked 26th in the UK (Guardian University Guide 2023). It has made great strides in challenging gender bias. For instance, the senior leadership team features five female senior leaders and five male while the student population is made up of 48% females. 

The Faculty of Science and Engineering, particularly, has a thriving research community. It is nationally and globally recognised, championing innovative and inclusive learning environments. With the necessary accreditations, Engineering at Swansea features nine disciplines: aerospace, biomedical, chemical, civil, electronic and electrical, general engineering, materials science and mechanical engineering. Whilst Science at Swansea offers biosciences, chemistry, computer science, geography, mathematics, physics and sport and exercise science.

Leading them is a full roster of women researchers. They lead research into using waste carbon dioxide to help grow algae to clean up waste fumes from local industry, sustainable manufacturing and recycling of batteries, quantifying animal movement to understand how animals respond to our changing world, and more. Amongst them, there’s no shortage of inspiration to transform Swansea students into future leaders and champions of industry, each equipped to meet the challenges and opportunities for a career in research and beyond.

*Some of the institutions featured in this article are commercial partners of Study International