33% by 2020: How we are closing Engineering’s gender gap

07 March 2018
Women in Engineering leaders, 2018
Our 2018 Women in Engineering leaders

The Faculty of Engineering is committed to fostering an inclusive environment – one that mirrors the wealth of diversity we see in our day-to-day lives. In conjunction with International Women's Day, we are reaffirming our goal to see 33% women in our first-year student cohort by 2020.

Professor Rosalind Archer, one of the champions of this goal, states, “our 33% goal is not going to be an easy one to reach in a relatively short time frame.  It is something very few comparable faculties in the Western world have achieved. However, we believe that a time when our faculty is growing is the right time, to challenge ourselves to commit to initiatives that make our student intake more reflective of wider society.”

A study published last year in Science showed that “women are underrepresented in fields whose members cherish brilliance”, a stereotype enforced by girls as young as six years old, as they question their own intelligence. Recently, a MYOB report revealed that the number of women in technology – in spite of its position as New Zealand’s fastest-growing sector – is in decline compared to other industries such as business, healthcare, politics and education. As an educational institute, we believe that we are not immune to these realities and see it as our responsibility to be pioneers of cultural change.

Dean of Engineering Professor Nic Smith affirms, “engineers and the technology they are developing play an increasingly central role in all our lives, affecting how we live, communicate and sustain ourselves. This opens up new opportunities in diverse fields such as Biomedical, Software and Environmental Engineering. It is critical that we are training a generation of highly talented and diverse students who will lead these developments. We will only be able to achieve this by increasing the number of women studying to be engineers.”

Change can come from the top, so we keep up our record of retaining prolific, inspiring academic staff. Today, we would like to celebrate the recognisable leaders in our academic roster, including:

This list does not even begin to cover the other research, teaching, academic and support staff throughout the faculty, and we want to make their achievements visible, both within and outside University. We hope to help young engineers find their way here through the myriad of journeys we have already experienced by telling our stories and bringing elements of Engineering to them. Each year, we run core outreach programmes such as Engineer Her Future and Enginuity Day; both showcase the excitement and range offered by an Engineering degree to crowds of high school-aged girls. We now have established a partnership with GirlBoss so that we can educate more school students.

We tackle society’s big challenges with a holistic approach, understanding the importance of student life outside the classroom. Our core outreach events involve real Engineering students and staff, led by dedicated Women in Engineering adviser, Dr Naomi Fleming, who also supports our Women in Engineering Network (WEN) throughout the year. The student-led group consists of both undergraduate and postgraduate students who play a strong part in enabling each other to succeed academically, professionally and personally.

“We’re proud to be celebrating the milestone that is WEN’s 25th anniversary this year, and alongside the roster of events we have planned, we hope to continue our strong record of engaging with young women and encouraging them to pursue pathways in Engineering. We do this not just by offering support, but by allowing women to see themselves in their successful peers”, says Dr Fleming.

The newly-released 2018 QS University Rankings by Subject shows that we have retained our position as New Zealand’s top university and are notably the only institute in the country above the 90th place. This is a position of privilege and we strive to continuously improve our output of high-impact research, great teaching, workplace-ready graduates, and to open doors to the many opportunities in Engineering, for everyone.

Our latest cohort of Part I students boasts a significant rise in women enrolling in Engineering – this is our highest ever, at over 27%, a sign that we are heading in the right direction.