Judith Hackitt, IChemE deputy president and chair of the Great Britain Health and Safety Executive, is calling for greater focus on encouraging women to pursue careers in engineering.
Speaking on Friday's International Womens Day, Hackitt said more women are needed to enter engineering and to recognize that it is a career choice enabling them to make a difference for future generations.
I believe that access to education for all women in the developing world and encouraging women to play a key role in addressing some of the planet's biggest problems by becoming engineers is key to creating the legacy we need for future generations, she said.
We need sustainable solutions to the energy, food, water, health and well being challenges which face both the developed and developing world.
Hackitts call echoed sentiments expressed earlier this week from Vince Cable, UK Secretary of State for business, innovation and skills. Cable, speaking at the Engineering Employers Federation dinner on Tuesday, said the UK has fewer female engineers than anywhere else in the European Union and that the nation could be left behind unless more is done to encourage women to pursue careers in engineering.
Engineering sits at the heart of our plan for rebalancing the economy, so I am working across government and with industry to ensure the next decade is the decade of the engineer," he said.
"In medicine, women now represent more than half the workforce. Yet currently fewer than 1 in 10 professional engineers in UK are women. To achieve our goals, we will require a long-term partnership with industry to improve funding for skills training, to highlight the achievements of pioneering female engineers and to encourage teachers and parents to spread the message that engineering is an exciting, high value career option for women as well as men."
Chemical engineering continues to lead the way amongst the engineering disciplines, with1 in 4 of UK chemical engineering students female. Civil Engineering lags behind with around 1 in 7, while mechanical engineering draws just 1 in 20.
Over the last decade, the number of women opting to study chemical engineering at UK universities has increased from 268 to 673, an increase of 151%.
Jarka Glassey, chair of IChemEs education special interest group, studied in Slovakia and noted a very different perception of engineering careers amongst women.
"The number of students opting for engineering subjects is much higher in Slovakia than in the UK," she said. "There are lessons we must learn from Europe because it would be great to see more female undergraduates here in the UK.
My personal experience is in the biochemical field and this is one area where there is quite a high proportion of women. In the future biochemical engineering will help to ensure we have safe and secure water and food supplies. It is an area that has a lot to offer from addressing issues of sustainability to meeting the medical needs of an aging population."