Only 6% of the Engineering workforce in the UK is female - and currently only 13% of UK engineering undergraduate students are female.1
We recognise the importance of the equal participation of women at all levels in a subject that has traditionally been, and remains, male-dominated. The Department is committed to the Athena SWAN charter which recognises the advancement of gender equality: representation, progression and success for all.
In particular we have focused on ways to encourage more female students to study engineering, and go on to consider engineering as a viable career path. In 2013 we founded the student-run society SWEY (Supporting Women in Engineering York) who run events, offer support and get involved in outreach activities.
We have also started to address the issues that affect women in the workplace both adversely and disproportionately and are aiming to remove the perceived barriers to women progressing in engineering in Universities and Industry. Moreover, we understand that good working practice benefits ALL staff and students, whereas bad working practice adversely affects women's careers more than men's.2
Our work has been recognised nationally, and the Department was awarded the Athena SWAN Bronze Award in 2012 and reconfirmed in 2017, which recognises that in addition to university-wide policies, the department has identified particular challenges and is actively addressing issues.
Below is some information on our work in this area and a list of external resources relevant to increasing female participation in STEMM subjects. More information is also available on the University's Athena SWAN page.
All interview panels for departmental positions include a mix of male and female interviewers.
Data on the numbers/ratios of male and female students and staff is monitored so that the Department can see where any imbalances lie. We are aiming for 30% female students by 2030, which would be 10% above the average for England.
Female students and staff members were interviewed on a one-to-one basis and others sent email responses. These interactions allowed the Department to gain a better understanding of the perceived barriers to women entering engineering.
Three students had completed projects on this topic by 2013 and also looked into ways that the Department can market itself to females more effectively as a means of addressing the gender imbalance. These projects have fuelled and informed further action from the Department.
An Equality and Diversity Committee meets once per term to monitor diversity, draw up action plans and prepare applications for external awards.
Since 2008 we have held regular social events for all women in the department (both staff and students) to help them feel less isolated in a male-dominated field. Female students from different year groups are able to meet and socialise and offer mutual support. In 2014 the student-run Society for Women in Engineering York (SWEY) was founded and is one of the first student societies to be ratified by the national Women in Engineering Society.
Our staff and students regularly visit local schools to introduce pupils to 'Electronic Engineering and show that engineering is not simply "for boys"; more information on our Outreach pages.
When she began working for the department in October 2006, Helen was employed on a part-time contract to teach students on the foundation year course. She had taken a career break in 1998 to have children and although she had taken on some work in the intervening years marking exams and supply teaching, this was Helen's first permanent post as a parent. Having no extended family in the area that could help out should any illness or other problems arise with the children, it was important to Helen that she knew the Department would be supportive. It was clear this would be the case from the start as it was agreed that she could delay the start of her teaching day to begin lectures at 9.30am so she could take her children to school and avoiding have to use pre-school childcare. She was also able to organise her teaching load so she could spend time with her young family during half term holidays.
'David Howard, our then Head of Department, is proactive about helping colleagues to support their family and recently allowed Helen to rearrange a lecture so she could take her son to his clarinet exam.
As Helen’s children have grown older, she has been encouraged to extend her skills and to consider her career development in the department. This has been instigated by constructive performance management reviews led by her line manager and followed up by the Head of Department. Helen took on the role of academic supervisor in 2011 and has increased her contract hours in line with this.
Dr Linda Dawson was one of the first two female students in the Department in 1980 and then, after a year in industry, one of the first female researchers when she came back to do her DPhil. Her research interests are in Applied Electromagnetics, in particular measurement techniques. She and Janet Clegg were part of the team that won the Institution of Engineering and Technology 2006 Wheatstone Measurement Prize awarded for their paper 'Resonant Cavity Measurement of Total Body Water'. The paper describes York's work with the Centre for Bone and Body Composition Research at Leeds General Infirmary. Together they have developed an electromagnetic technique to measure body water which could help to improve the treatment of various medical conditions such as kidney failure, heart problems and obesity.
Linda did consultancy work for York Electronics Centre for eight years, but wanted to work part-time after the birth of her first daughter, which wasn't viable in a commercial environment. So she changed back to being a research fellow, which has given her the flexibility she needs - for example, the ability to put in more hours during term time and have more time off over the school holidays.
Dr Janet Clegg’s research career began in 1993 when she was a single parent of two children aged 11 and 13, so the Department's flexitime policy which allowed her to easily combine her work and family commitments was very important to her. She started with a one-year research contract but stayed on in the Department for 13 years moving from one contract to the next. Eventually a permanent post became available. Between 1993 and 2006, Janet was funded for several research projects and also spent two years researching for the Mathematics Department. In 2000, when her father became ill, Janet was able to work half time for 18 months while she ran his business and resume her full-time position when it was sold.
Janet became the Department's first female academic when she took up the position of lecturer in 2006.
Profiles of female members of staff in other science departments are available on the University's main Athena SWAN page.
York is amazing and beautiful, the great historical buildings and museums, beautiful gardens and parks here are always wonderful places for activities with my children. This is my way to maintain a balanced life as a student and a mom. The student family network within the university is always helpful in supporting students with dependents.
I came to York to study Physics with Foundation Year, but as the foundation year is run by the electronics department I did electronics lectures and labs during my first term. By the second term I wasn’t happy about not continuing with the Electronics content, because I had enjoyed it immensely, so I decided to transfer to Electronics instead. I chose York because it’s one of the best universities in the country and was also ranked best for electronic engineering. The beautiful surroundings of the University wasan added bonus; all the ducks and geese make for a very relaxing atmosphere, even when exams are looming!
What I enjoy most is that from the beginning you get to do lab sessions, it’s a very ‘learn by doing’ course so there isn’t months of learning theory before putting knowledge into practice. The most surprising thing I learned about electronics is just how widely spread its uses are. Anything from the obvious, computers/mobile phones, to medical applications using nanotechnology/sonic waves. It’s literally everywhere and we’d be lost without it.
I was slightly worried that I would experience sexism as it’s a very male dominated field but I needn’t have been. I immediately felt comfortable and accepted; never made to feel like I didn’t belong or that I would be less able to do labs because I’m a woman.
Electronics is fun, interesting and has a million uses. There’s a huge range of jobs that you can go into and there’s not a lack of them as there will always be a huge demand for Electronic Engineers. I personally want to go into some branch of Avionics and look forward to the years to come in my studies and future work life.
Electronics is one of the broad aspects of engineering which integrates with any sector, and so my decision to study Electronics in one of the top UK Universities with a great student life meant that I chose York.
I enjoyed the coursework, especially programming, and presentations (which involved team work) even though they were challenging with critical deadlines. After I graduate, I intend to work in the industry and put all my knowledge into practical use. During my years of studying, I have learnt that electronics is not difficult and can be so much fun if you get the right assistance.
Being a female in this sector hasn't been as challenging as I expected. Due to the fact that there is about 1:10 ratio of female to male students there is a high chance that one's group partners are mainly (if not all) male. There is a small number of female lecturers in the department, which is encouraging, and it's easy to relate to them, but all lecturers (male and female) are very helpful and encouraging.
While studying an Audio Engineering course in Spain years ago, I asked my teacher why components in a parallel circuit have the same voltage across them. That sparked an interest in electronics which eventually drove me to apply to the University of York. I applied for a place in the BEng in Electronics and Music Technology at York, as it had the right mixture of audio and technology modules. As I expected, the programme proved to be very challenging, but I got to discover many areas of audio research and learned skills in programming and electronics, something I had never thought I would be capable of doing.
I must admit that I was fearful when coming to York to study at University level in a foreign language. But I was reassured when I saw how passionate lecturers were about their subject and how approachable they were to students. The modules I enjoyed the most were those which involved plenty of lectures as they helped me a great deal to understand the subject and solve any doubts I may have had.
Although the course had a heavy work load, I was keen to do things outside of the academic work. I got involved in the Latin American society where I met some of my best friends and helped to cure my homesickness. It was great being able to organize events and spread the Latin American culture while enjoying myself. I also played squash, played in a band and did as many things as I could (there are too many activities and too little time!).
After graduating with a 2:1 I am coming back to the UK to do an MSc in Renewable Energy Systems. Although I enjoyed doing Music Tech, I have realized that I want to use my knowledge in technology and electronics in something more meaningful to me. I feel confident that I have learnt a broad set of skills during my time in York and most importantly, that they can be transferred to many applications in real life.
As a woman in Engineering, it was obvious from the beginning that women were minority, which made it harder for me to befriend people in my course. Aside of that, I was part of male groups where I did not feel any different and never noted that my gender mattered. Women should not feel discouraged to start a career in Engineering - it is really all about what you make out of the teaching and other resources that the University offers you and, in any case, you will find that the majority of students are dedicated people that will be happy to discuss anything Electronics related whatever their gender!
My first engagement with electronics is when I chose telecommunication engineering, a part of the broad electronic study field, as my bachelor major. I keep the intensity with working as a telecommunication engineer after that. Being the only female in a team is my ordinary daily working life and I enjoy my job very much. I never feel different just because I am the only woman in my team. As a part of a team, we do our own task, the rest of the team are always very supportive, they always cheer on every achievement and kindly guide if I find some problem. We work together and encourage each other to be better. Being involved in software development as well using software in a electronics tasks is very common nowadays, which means that electronics does not always require physical strength. Therefore, women do not have to be of afraid to put our mark on and be outstanding in electronics.
After a couple years in this field, I have a chance to see how this technology adds value to our lives as well how this technology grows day by day. As there is continuous innovation in technology it is necessary to be able to manage the development of technology. That’s one of reasons which bring me hundreds of miles away from my homeland to learn about engineering management in a comprehensive nature, here in the University of York.
The variety of exciting, creative and stimulating careers in modern engineering is vast and yet the demand for engineers far exceeds supply. We must get more young people – including girls – interested in becoming engineers and we need your help.
"The IET Women's Network aims to provide you with a means of support to help you throughout your career and help you achieve your aspirations."
"WISE helps organisations to inspire women and girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as pathways to exciting and fulfilling careers."
"There aren’t enough women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics careers and as a result, women won’t hold positions of authority in STEM or be able to answer the UK’s skills shortage. We're running Stemettes events, and promoting events of other Women in STEM, so you can meet wonderful women in STEM and find out more about STEM careers - for yourself, your daughter, your niece or any young lady you know."
"STEMinism UK is a unique collection of female only events for women studying science, technology, engineering and maths at UK universities. Network member’s receive priority invites to events such as IT’s not just for the boys! and Engineer your future plus one-to-one mentoring programmes with high profile inspirational women working within STEM industries."
"The Women's Engineering Society is a professional, not-for-profit network of women engineers, scientists and technologists offering inspiration, support and professional development. Working in partnership, we campaign to encourage women to participate and achieve as engineers, scientists and as leaders."
"Listen to stories about fascinating women working and learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields; and learn about programs and practices throughout the U.S. designed to broaden the participation of women in STEM."
" A project that brings historians, archivists and practising scientists together to research women's participation in science and learned societies in Britain since 1830."
A Guardian article examining the reasons for the relatively poor retention rate for women in academia compared to men.