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Women in Engineering: INWED24 Special


In a recent study by The Royal Society, in partnership with EngineeringUK, they found that in school students only 16% of girls said a career in engineering is suitable for someone like them compared to almost 44% of boys. Why is there such a stark difference between STEM uptake in males and females? And how can we resolve this?

For a special podcast episode launched to support #INWED24 and their #enhancedbyengineering campaign, our host Alex Edwards had the pleasure of being joined by Insha Shaikh, Mechanical Engineering student at University of Warwick and President of Warwick Women in Engineering and Science Society, to explore why adoption is so low in females, how we can change this, and Insha’s own experiences in engineering and tech.


Items referenced in this episode:

 Science Education Tracker by Royal Society in partnership with EngineeringUK

→ Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Team for Long-Term Success

Warwick Women in Engineering & Science (WWES)



How is the balance of women in engineering in UK manufacturing? (00:37)

Why is STEM adoption so low? (01:58)

What needs to change to encourage more females to take up STEM? (04:37)

How does the UK compare to other European countries when it comes to women in STEM engagement? (07:24)

How are Warwick Women in Engineering & Science trying to make a change? (10:01)

What is on the horizon for Warwick Women in Engineering & Science? (15:23)

What benefits are there to having more diverse teams involved in engineering projects? (17:28)

How have your experiences been when you've been involved in businesses compared to being at university? (19:56)



The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of any entities they represent or Protolabs.


Insha Shaikh headshot

Insha Shaikh, President of the Women in Engineering and Science society at University of Warwick

Insha Shaikh is a second year MEng Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Warwick and is also the President of the Women in Engineering and Science society at the university.

Warwick Women in Engineering and Science was formed to celebrate and promote diversity in STEM disciplines at the University of Warwick. It is their belief that by connecting outstanding students with future employers they can begin to break those barriers that prevent minorities from accessing the industry, working in partnership with many firms to achieve this. Affiliated with the UK women’s engineering society, they have over 100 years of experience and rich history driving and motivating their purpose.  Their aim is to open doors into STEM for anyone, no matter their age, gender, disability, sexual orientation or race. They also run outreach sessions within schools in the local community to demonstrate not only what engineering is, but what an engineer can look like: anyone!

Get in contact with Warwick Women in Engineering and Science by email via [email protected] or follow them for their latest updates on instagram using the handle @warwick_wes. You can also connect with Insha on LinkedIn.


Episode transcript


Alex Edwards 00:05

Hello and welcome to the Protolabs inspirON exchange podcast, the show for engineers and designers to connect with industry leaders and academics to learn more about what's happening in the industry, how to innovate, and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Today, I’d like to focus on women in Engineering, with a particular focus on the current UK manufacturing sector. I’m joined today by Insha Shaikh, President of the Women in Engineering & Science society at University of Warwick, great to have you on today Insha!


Insha Shaikh 00:34

Hi, it’s great to be here.


Alex Edwards 00:37

Let’s jump straight in, in your opinion how’s the balance of women in engineering in UK manufacturing?


Insha Shaikh 00:46

Within the manufacturing sector itself I know that there’s roughly 20% of females in the industry, which is obviously very, very low, and I think additionally, not just within manufacturing, but also within students so starting from younger ages whether that’s school and a-levels all the way to university, there’s always been fewer females than males. Alongside manufacturing it also exists in all variations of the engineering and tech industries. Within STEM more broadly I think engineering is the one that has the biggest difference between the number of males and females in the sector.


Alex Edwards 01:58

It’s interesting, isn’t it? I saw a report finding from the Royal Society in partnership with EngineeringUK and it showed that nearly 57% of girls said they don’t enjoy the subjects compared to only 41% of boys. A more striking figure was that only 16% of girls said a career in engineering is suitable for someone like them compared to almost 44% of boys. What are your thoughts on that? Why do you think that there’s such a lower rate of adoption?


Insha Shaikh 02:36

Yeah that’s really interesting to look at because you can see clearly that first hurdle within this discrepancy is within education. Often you see STEM subjects stereotypically portrayed to be male dominated so often girls find themselves missing out and not really thinking that’s something that they can do. I know there’s been a study where they asked younger students to draw a scientist or an engineer and girls will typically draw a man more often than drawing a woman, and boys do the same, they almost always draw a man. Even within engineering I think often they draw someone that’s got a hard hat and a high vis, and that’s not necessarily what an engineer is.

I think a lot of it is them not really seeing role models and not having examples to look up to. I think because in the past there was an even bigger difference and there were barely any women who were in manufacturing, engineering, and tech sectors, that’s still stayed on today and we need to put more women in the spotlight and show them that there are women in these fields and they are more than capable to also go on and do amazing things within these sectors.


Alex Edwards 04:37

It’s a really good point, representation is key. Whether it’s getting women into engineering, but also you hear of it in sports and people from minority backgrounds saying “I didn’t think that was for me” because none of the role models are like them. Other than getting more women involved in engineering, tech and manufacturing, what else do you think needs to change?


Insha Shaikh 05:13

I think we need to get girls in schools, and not just girls, all students, to really see what pathways are open to them and what sort of things they can do after they leave. I think this needs to be done from a young age, especially with engineering, it’s not a subject you study, it’s more physics and maths, but engineering is really different to these subjects. So I think putting role models out there is one way but then actually showing what engineering is. It’s quite interesting because often girls I’ve heard will pick subjects where potential career paths could be seen to make a difference and they want the social aspect, they like helping other people. I think that’s why you find a lot of girls do biology or medicine, it’s close to even in medicine between females and males. So showing them that engineering isn’t someone with a hard hat, building boots and a high vis, if you want to do that that could be you, but there’s also designers and project managers, it’s such a vast field and there’s so many different sectors involved in it. There really is something for everyone and engineering is somewhere where you can really make a massive impact.

I think that needs to be implemented into the curriculum, let’s show what engineering is and, it doesn’t just have to be engineering, but show what options there are and how your career can progress if you choose to study that subject.


Alex Edwards 07:24

Education’s really key and it’s a really interesting point about the comparison in medicine, it’s a lot higher, there a lot more women involved. I think it’s about the explanation and how the industry’s advertised. You have those formative years where you decide what it is that you’re going to want to do and you start picking your options and if you’re not really sure what a career in engineering entails then you’re never going to steer towards it.

It's interesting to see how we’ve got this issue in the UK, in your role, I know it’s more focused on the UK, but do you have an idea of how we compare to other European countries? Is this a wider European problem or more of a UK issue?


Insha Shaikh 08:13

I think it is a European problem as well, and actually a global problem. But I know that the UK is lower in terms of the number of women going into engineering than some of the other European countries. There are certain countries where there is around 50% of women in the engineering sector compared to men, places in the Middle East like Oman, Jordan and Malaysia, they have a high percentage of women going into engineering. So I think there is definitely an issue within more Western countries and the majority of European countries where they do have very few women compared to men.

I think there are certain examples that we can look at such as Oman, Malaysia and Jordan and see what they’ve done and what they’ve implemented. I don’t know much about those countries and what the government’s doing or what the engineering industry is doing to draw in the engagement but I do think the curriculum there could be studied and the advertising of the engineering industry can be looked at to see what it’s like and to compare that because I think that’s really interesting that it’s mostly in Western countries where the bigger differences do lie.


Alex Edwards 10:01

I can’t help but feel, like you say, it’s about how it’s been represented over the years. It’s funny I’m in marketing and partly responsible for advertising and showing what the industry looks like and I’m just thinking of stock images we use and even experimenting with AI to create images, it was similar to what you said about what kids will draw if asked to draw an Engineer. It was very much check shirt, hard hat, and hi-vis, and it was a man stood on a factory floor and it’s just not a good representation of what it looks like. Like you said, there are many different roles throughout an engineering or a technical business that you can work in that are more diverse than that. There’s going to be work being done to change this, but specifically to you and your role, what’s happening at Warwick Women in Engineering & Science society and how what does your presidency there entail?


Insha Shaikh 11:08

I’m in my second year of university and I’m studying Mechanical Engineering at University of Warwick and within the university we have the Women in Engineering & Science society. Our aim is to be a friendly and welcoming place for girls doing STEM subjects and that varies from engineering to computer science, students doing biomedical science, and we have different events that we run so we’ll do like career orientated events so whether that is interview practice or I know we spoke earlier about role models, we will bring in women that are doing great things in their respective fields and have them in to speak about what they’re doing and their journey because I think it’s really interesting to see other people, not just where they are currently but how they got there and the challenges that they faced. So we like to do events with those in the industry and we have a lot of companies that sponsor us like BNP Paribas and Leonardo, and working alongside them we can showcase what they’re doing to support women in engineering and what a career there might actually look like to encourage students.

Alongside the career aspect, we also have social aspects where girls coming in through freshers and the like, can speak to girls in second and third years and learn from their experiences and go to them for advice. Often when you’re studying Engineering and STEM you’ll be a minority being a woman and it’s nice sometimes to get with all the girls and have a bit of time to socialise in that way, so we also support that.

We also do some outreach, so we go to local primary schools and try and do STEM related activities to encourage and show them what engineering actually is and be role models for them as well.


Alex Edwards 13:44

It’s brilliant, it’s tackling exactly what we spoke about earlier in terms of representation and making people understand from an early age what that career path can look like. Have you seen an increase in uptake in your two years, is it starting to gain momentum or is there still lots of work to do?


Insha Shaikh 14:12

At University of Warwick within engineering we have over 30% of females which is higher than the industry average so I think we are doing well, we’re not falling behind or anything, but I think there is still a lot we can do and I know that the society is working alongside the engineering department to speak to them about any initiatives we can do. We’re running open days all the time and there’s girls with their parents that will come over and say “I don’t know anything about cars and gearboxes and all of that, do you think I’ll be able to do mechanical engineering?” and of course they can. It’s about showing them that there is something for everyone and it is such a broad field and sharing your experiences with them. Through that hopefully and our other outreach and initiatives we can try to increase engagement over the next few years.


Alex Edwards 15:23

Certainly and I’m sure you will. The more of these activities that happen and the more positive role models that we see, hopefully it will result in more and more uptake.

You mentioned about open days and some other initiatives that you have done, are there any on the horizon that anyone listening can get involved with or visit to talk to you?


Insha Shaikh 15:48

Yeah of course, we are currently nearing towards the end of the academic year but we’re prepping ourselves for the next academic year starting in September. We work alongside sponsors where companies can contact us and establish a partnership where we’ll bring them in and do events alongside them and see how they can get involved and help us achieve our mission.

We’re currently looking for sponsors for next academic year so if any companies are interested that’s definitely something we’re looking for. We’re also planning a big conference titled “inspiring future generations of leaders” to showcase female speakers from various sectors, whether that’s tech or engineering and manufacturing, to speak with us and our members about their experiences and journeys to create a networking session. Going in to the next academic year in September, we will have lots of events on as well which we share through our social media. A lot going on and a lot planned for the future.


Alex Edwards 17:28

That sounds amazing and we’ll put any of the details related to that information at the bottom of this podcast description for our listeners, so they can find out more.

There’s a lot of work that you are doing and in terms of impact, in your opinion, what effects are you seeing? I’ve been doing some research and its suggests that diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones, which is generally widely accepted. On your side, how are you seeing that? So when women are getting involved in engineering projects, what benefits does that bring and how is that increased diversity helping specifically on engineering projects?


Insha Shaikh 18:20

Often sometimes you’ll find a group project where there’s fewer females than males that often you could be overlooked. So you need to establish that “no I can do this” and be confident enough to put yourself forward. Going forward from that I think the importance of diverse teams, not necessarily just between women and men, but diverse in general, everyone will have a different way of thinking and different experiences and that’s important to take in, especially in engineering. When you’re designing things for the real world what you’re designing needs to reflect the real world and needs to appeal to a diverse range of customers. So I think that having a diverse team actually designing that and working on that is really important because everyone will have different experiences, different opinions, different ways of doing things, and different ways of thinking. I think when all of that comes together is when you’re going to make the best project or have the best outcome. I think it’s really important for everyone to bring in their unique perspectives to have the best innovation and best outcome.


Alex Edwards 19:56

It’s interesting, isn’t it? Like you pointed out, it’s so simple of the face of it. The more people that are involved, the more variety of skills and opinions and just the way you approach a problem and problem solving, you’ve got more chance of actually being a successful team if everybody does not have the same set of skills. Some people might excel in different areas and you can then take advantage of that.

In terms of your experience in engineering and tech, how have you found it? I know we’ve spoken offline and that you’ve had a lot of internships and you’re doing a lot of work alongside what you’re doing in at university, I don’t know how you the find the hours in the day to be honest, but how have you found it as in for you personally and when you’ve stepped into those roles are you able to implement what it is you’re doing in your presidency role or do you find that when you actually get out into the businesses there’s a little bit more to be done?


Insha Shaikh 21:10

I’ve definitely gained confidence in myself since I started, I’ve built up self-belief and confidence through all of the experiences which has helped me to put myself forward for a lot more things. I know a few years ago if I would have looked at doing things like this podcast, I would not have believed that I would be doing these things, so I think it’s really important to get involved in experiences and even if you think “oh no I don’t think I can do that” just put yourself forward and the confidence will come. The more you do, the more confidence you’ll get.

For me personally, my experience within engineering has been really positive. I’ve not personally experienced a situation where I felt that I couldn’t do something because I’m a woman or that something wasn’t for me to get involved in. Although saying that there is quite a lot of discrepancies that still exist and I think going into businesses and doing internships there or working on certain projects, you can definitely see that there is still a lot of work to be done. It’s not necessarily saying “you’re a woman you can’t do that”, I’ve never had anyone say that to me and I don’t think a lot of men think that either, but I think sometimes people don’t realise how little things can impact women and how it can impact their confidence. For example, going into a lab where the safety equipment is designed for men and there’s not enough smaller sizes for women, you can feel a bit out of place to begin with. Overall though my experience has been really positive and I do really enjoy my degree and all of the experiences that I’ve been getting. It’s definitely helped me with my confidence and not just my technical skills, but I do think there’s a lot of work still to be done in the future.


Alex Edwards 24:06

It’s great to hear that you’re enjoying it, you’re doing a fantastic job in my opinion. Thank you for your time today Insha, it was really great speaking with you.

Don’t forget everyone listening to subscribe to make sure that you never miss an episode and head over to the Protolabs website for more information including details on how to connect with Insha and the various projects and programmes that she will involved with in the coming months.

That’s all until next time, see you soon.


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