In 1984, there were 14 per cent of female graduates in engineering and technology courses. In 2015, there was still only 14 per cent of female graduates in engineering courses. This sad statistic formed the basis of an impactful lecture by Chi Onwurah MP about the gender imbalance in Science, Technology, Engineering and Technology (STEM) subjects and subsequent careers.
The Shadow Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy visited LJMU this week to give the latest Women in STEM Lecture Series, and provided fascinating personal insights into her journey from a Newcastle council estate to the illustrious halls of Westminster, via an international and successful career in engineering.
Chi is a Chartered Engineer with a BEng in Electrical Engineering from Imperial College London and an MBA from Manchester Business School. Born in Wallsend to Nigerian parents, her career in engineering took her to London, Paris, Singapore, Washington and Africa before being elected to Parliament in 2010, initially working as Shadow Minister for innovation, Science and Digital Infrastructure. She worked closely with the science and business community, with industry on Broadband issues, and on the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill.
In her lecture, she expressed her passion for STEM and the female role models who inspired her, from social reformer and statistician Florence Nightingale, who not only was the founder of modern nursing but also invented the pie chart, to Ada Lovelace, the English mathematician and writer who is known for being the first ever computer engineer, chiefly known for her work on the early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine.
Chi was also outspoken about the negative effect of ingrained gender stereotypes from childhood, eg. The colours of pink and blue being synonymous with gender, and was particularly vociferous about the segregation in children’s toy shops. She promoted also the economic and creative rationale to having a more diverse workforce in the areas of engineering and technology rather than the traditional all-men dominance. She concluded by giving an impassioned manifesto on what needs to be done to change the status quo, including the possibility of future new legislation to promote equality in the sector.
Robin Leatherbarrow, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Scholarship, Research and Knowledge Transfer, said: “We were delighted to welcome Chi to LJMU and hear her give an impactful and passionate talk on her career so far and her hopes for women in the male dominated worlds of science, technology and engineering. Chi emphasised the challenges that lay ahead for changing the face of the sector but as she proves herself, these are not insurmountable. Her ambition and drive has ensured that she has become a positive role model for other women as well as men wanting to establish a career in technology and engineering.”