Women's Engineering Society
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The Women's Engineering Society is a United Kingdom professional learned society and networking body for women engineers, scientists and technologists.
The society was formed in 1919, after the First World War, during which many women had taken up roles in engineering to replace men who were involved in the military effort. There had been an attitude among employers and trades unions that denied women jobs and training in engineering. While it had been seen as necessary to bring women into engineering to fill the gap left by men joining the armed forces, government, employers and trades unions were against the continuing employment of women after the war.
This led a group of women, including Lady Katherine Parsons and her daughter Rachel Parsons, also Verena Holmes who would become the first female member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers to form the Women's Engineering Society, with the aim of enabling women to gain training, jobs and acceptance. There is a parallel with the difficulties faced by women in medicine in the 19th century.
Society members have advised the UK government on evolving employment practices for women. Constituted as a professional society with membership grades based on qualification and experience, the society promotes the study and practice of engineering and allied sciences among women.
Members are drawn from women who have entered the profession through routes varying from traditional apprenticeship to higher education leading to graduate and further degrees. The participation of male engineers in the society is encouraged.
The society celebrated its 95th year in 2014 with the launch of National Women in Engineering Day on 23 June 2014.
The society's journal The Woman Engineer has an editorial board that has evolved the journal to reflect the changes in society at large. In the early days it contained technical articles as women could not join professional engineering institutions in the UK and it now contains articles which give engineers a view of work in all the engineering disciplines and celebrates the achievements of women.
The society has an archive documenting women's status in engineering and provides an insight into women's changing role in society. The archive is hosted by the IET.
Today WES is represented throughout the UK by groups, providing a forum for women to share experience and knowledge. The work of the groups focuses on:
- support to members and women engineers in general,
- encouragement of women to study engineering and take up engineering careers,
- promotion of corporate gender diversity,
- speaking as the collective voice of women engineers.
Current membership exceeds 1000 individuals and over 35 corporate and education partners.
The Women's Engineering Society holds an annual conference, a student conference and regional workshops and networking events. The annual student conference, Engineering Inspiration, takes place at Aston University in November. Previous annual technical conferences include:
- 2016 A one-day Skills and Competences Update conference in London http://www.wes.org.uk/conference2016
- 2014 conference Women in Engineering: The Challenge
- The 2013 WES conference: Harnessing the Energy
- The 2012 and 2013 student conferences 'Engineering Inspiration' at Aston University in Birmingham
- The 2011 conference: Getting There
- The 2010 conference: Crossing Bridges
- The 2009 conference: the Power of Change
Outreach to schools
In 2014 WES set up an outreach programme called Magnificent Women (and their flying machines) which replicates the work that women did during the First World War in making aircraft wings, and this is aimed at secondary school girls. ''
WES members often volunteer in schools to inspire girls to take up engineering and allied science careers. In 1969 President Verena Holmes left a legacy to fund an annual lecture to inspire school girls. Run by the Verena Holmes Trust the first lecture tour was in 1969 during the first UK Women in Engineering Year and the last lecture was sponsored by Ford in 2000.
Members provided the 'technical women power' for the WISE Buses which were launched following the WISE Year in 1984, celebrating the first 25 years of women into engineering, (the first being in 1969) and continue to undertake activities in schools often through the UK STEM Ambassador scheme.
MentorSET is a mentoring scheme for engineers, inspired by the WES President Petra Gratton (née Godwin) in 2000. The scheme was a collaborative project between WES and the national network of women scientists (AWISE). The philosophy was to enable women to joining a bespoke mentoring scheme to help them progress in their career and to support them back into engineering after a career break. MentorSET has previously been funded by DTI, the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET, and BAE Systems. In 2015 the MentorSET programme was relaunched with funding from DECC, now BEIS and Women In Nuclear and is now relevant to women working in science and technology as well as engineering.