by Hayaatun Sillem
Originally published: January 11, 2017
Despite some notable efforts, the engineering community still has a long way to go in building a more diverse culture writes Dr Hayaatun Sillem, deputy chief executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering
A fascinating new film will be premiered this month tracing the story of a group of NASA mathematicians – dubbed ‘human computers’ – who played a vital role in the US space programme, making crucial calculations to enable this superlative engineering effort. All were black women, and their story, Hidden Figures, celebrates a contribution thatwent largely unrecognised for decades.
Fifty years later, and despite efforts to improve diversity, statistics tell us that STEM professions, and the engineering community in particular, still have a long way to go in building a more diverse culture. For example, 20 per cent of physics A-levels are awarded to girls, the Institute of Physics found in its 2011 report It’s different for girls. Fifteen per cent of engineering and technology first degrees are awarded to females. Only 8 per cent of professional engineers are female, according to Prof John Perkins’ 2013 Review of engineering skills, and only 4.6 per cent of those registered with their professional institutions are female. Only 25.5 per cent of engineering and technology first degrees are awarded to people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, according to EngineeringUK 2016, while 14 per cent of the UK population are from minority ethnic backgrounds. But only 6 per cent of people in professional engineering roles are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, according to a Royal Academy of Engineering analysis of Labour force survey data in 2013.