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Women and Engineering

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Diario Vasco

Marta Ormazábal

Assistant Director of Office of Academic Affairs of Tecnun-School of Engineering of the University of Navarra

A few days ago the International Day of Women in Engineering was celebrated. There were many schools that spread the biography of women who have played a role core topic in the social development , and I am convinced that they will awaken vocations and more steam references in future generations. 

More and more companies are demanding technical profiles. A recent study by ADEGI indicated that almost 90% of companies in Gipuzkoa are short of engineers. In fact, the pandemic has brought with it changes in the world of work, in which many sectors and profiles have been affected and the demand for professionals in industries such as healthcare or technology has shot up. 

This reality presents us with two opportunities for professionals in the engineering sector, and also for teachers in Engineering Schools, as in my case, who have the possibility of training young students who are excited about their future. 

The first challenge would be to assume with responsibility that society demands our work. It needs the knowledge of men and women who understand the transforming power of engineering and know how to use it. And of course, that they do it together, because diversity and complementarity always enriches. 

The second challenge is to make the social side of engineering more visible so that more and more boys and girls, and therefore more young people, opt for it. I think that for a long time we have been wrongly associated with the idea of being in a laboratory isolated or getting our hands dirty with a machine, without much contact with the outside world and without a direct impact on society. Moreover, this false idea of "loners" affects women even more when considering engineering as an option.  

Covid-19 has taught us a lot in this regard. Think of the pandemic that has changed our lives since it broke out in March last year. Engineering has been present in all the logistical systems of food transport, in the optimisation of work shifts in companies, supermarkets or clinics. We saw numerous cases of engineers in multidisciplinary teams and in collaboration with professionals from different countries developing medical solutions. Engineering is attractive in itself, but we have to know how to tell the story, how to reach schools and families, and I think we are doing that.   

Despite the fact that today the average of women studying engineering, according to the latest Eurostat study, does not reach 30%, we are one of the EU countries with more female scientists and engineers. Specifically with 49.3%. In Tecnun we have seen an evolution in recent years and we have 40% of female students studying any of our Degrees or masters.  

The Education plays an essential role in this sense, as it is the main lever for social transformation. The real challenge is to encourage interest in science and technology in the people that children have as references at the earliest ages, which are usually their parents and kindergarten teachers. Engineering comes from ingenuity and what defines us is the ability to translate that idea into a product or a solution. The role of parents and educators is crucial and I would venture to say that it is from the time they are almost 3 years old. That is when they begin to overcome their fears, develop their skills and creativity, and of course, when they are most guided by what their peers are teaching them.  

For two years we have been part of the committee organizer of Emakumeak Zientzian, an initiative launched thanks to the efforts of various research centers in the city. The goal is to make visible the work of women scientists (a world until now mainly dominated by men), as well as to encourage the love for steam careers in both boys and girls as well as young people. To this end, practical science workshops are organized and audiovisual content is generated that schools can then use in their classes. Women working in the field of science and technology share their experience with younger students so that they can see in them an example to follow. People need a mirror in which to look at ourselves that gives us optimism, and we have many of them.   

I also think that nobody wants or is interested in what they don't know. When we go to schools we see that students at high school program are curious about engineering, but they don't quite understand what we do. Perhaps they see it as a complicated career, within the reach of the most intelligent and with promising professional opportunities. conference We recently held an introductory workshop at Tecnun with 165 students of high school diploma. They did practical work in laboratories and discovered in teams the different branches of engineering, what differentiates them and what unites them. And all this helped them to break with the false idea that we work alone (or accompanied, at most, by a machine).   

I think that the message we have to convey is the one that Sara Gómez Martín, director of project Women and Engineering of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says: "Engineering in past centuries was focused on the machine, but in the 21st century it focuses on people and on improving their quality of life". Let's make strength in its social aspect.