Women make up 50% of the global population, but only 35% of students studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, and just 8% of engineering, manufacturing and construction studies students, according to a new report from UNESCO.* Despite progress in encouraging more girls to study in STEM-related areas, it’s clear that there’s still a long way to go.
Maria Onoufriou was a member of 2017 Fly Your Ideas finalist team SkyVision and is now a research engineer working towards an Engineering Doctorate (EngD) in Composites Manufacture sponsored by Rolls Royce. So, what was her experience of studying within a traditionally male-dominated area? “Overall, I had a very positive experience during my undergraduate engineering studies and I rarely felt discriminated against or received any special treatment because of my gender”, says Maria. However, as a female student, she did feel that her experience was different to that of the men on her course. “The biggest challenge I encountered during my studies was working on group projects. Because of the low ratio of female to male students in my course, I was often the only girl in the group. I felt like I had to prove my capabilities and knowledge to the group more than my male colleagues did.”
Fly Your Ideas partner, UNESCO marked the publication of their global report, ‘Cracking the Code: Girls’ and women’s education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)’, with a conference that aims to engage, inform and supports UNESCO’s Member States in their efforts to promote gender equality in education. The report emphasises the key role that equal access to education – especially in STEM subjects – has in helping member states achieve their Sustainable Development Goals. Just like at Airbus, UNESCO believes that we will make the most of the opportunities and challenges of the future when the engineers and innovators working on solutions represent all of society, starting with more women engaging with STEM as both a choice of study area and then as a career.
Maria has some advice for other women who are interested in following her path, “What I did to overcome the challenge of being a woman in a male-dominated area was forget about the stereotypes and dismiss the assumption that most people believed in them. That helped lift the pressure to prove myself all the time and allowed me to just focus on producing my best work.” She has some final advice for all the female engineering students out there, “Be confident, speak up and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself!”