Inspiring female engineers

Only 10% of engineering professionals in the UK are women. Donations to scholarships can help change that.


During dogfights in the early part of WWII, there was a serious problem with British spitfires. When entering a nosedive to manoeuvre against an enemy aircraft, the negative G-force would cause the engine to stall.

The German aircraft had no such problems, and could easily outmanoeuvre the British spitfires. An urgent fix was needed if the British were to stand a chance.

This fix came from Manchester graduate Beatrice Shilling. Beatrice invented a small metal disk which, when fitted to the plane’s engine, would allow the RAF pilots to pull off these manoeuvres without stalling.

This disk, which came to be known as ‘The Tilly Orifice’ evened the playing field. To put it simply, without Beatrice, the war may have ended very differently.

Beatrice was awarded an OBE in 1947 for her work

Gender gap

Beatrice is just one of countless examples of women engineers doing incredible work. Despite this, the sector continues to be male dominated. In the UK, fewer than 10% of engineering professionals are women.

The same goes for education. For the past 25 years, girls have only made up around 20% of A Level physics students and since 2012 the proportion of young women taking up engineering and physics courses has hardly changed from around 14%.

The problem is clear, but the causes are still debated. Some attribute it to subconscious gender biases, lack of awareness or the social perception and stereotype that it is a “man’s” field.

What is clear is that we need to tackle this problem head on, and find new ways to get more women into engineering courses and careers.

International Women in Engineering Day celebrates the careers of women in the field, shining a light on their achievements and highlighting positive female role models, inspiring more women and girls to pursue their interest in engineering.

International Women in Engineering Day demonstrates that your gender should not be a barrier to accessing a career.

Inspiring students

At the University, donations to scholarships are one of the ways we can help exceptional and talented women thrive in this male dominated field.

Caroline Gaju, MSc Engineering Project Management

Rowland Equity and Merit Scholarship

“The opportunity to study at Manchester will help me to blaze a trail for others to follow.”

Caroline is from Rwanda, and her dream is to inspire the next generation of engineers in her home country.

“The Dylan Thomas line, ‘rage, rage against the dying of the light’, is something that inspires me a lot. It speaks about fighting to keep your inspiration burning, and that is underlying theme of my life.”

Caroline is the recipient of a donor-funded Rowland Equity and Merit Scholarship. This scholarship, which covers her full living, travel and visa costs, will allow her to gain the skills and knowledge to make a significant contribution to her home country of Rwanda.

Caroline is well aware of how male-dominated the field of engineering is and has actively made an effort to support other women and girls and encourage them to go into the field.

“Women need greater opportunities to gain knowledge and experience so that gender equality can be realised.”

Back in Rwanda, Caroline led a mentoring programme designed specifically to encourage girls to embrace subjects like engineering. Her master’s degree will equip her with the knowledge to help bring more women into the industry.

Ellie Townsend, Civil Engineering with an integrated Foundation Year

Cadoux-Hudson Foundation Studies Scholarship

“I want to thrive in a male-orientated field.”

Ellie has long been fascinated by the technical side and calculations involved in constructing bridges and other structures.

However, Ellie was worried that she couldn’t pursue civil engineering because she didn’t have the required physics A-level. Thankfully, she was able to come to Manchester through the University’s Foundation Studies programme. Foundation Studies offer a ‘Year 0’ for students from diverse educational backgrounds or those without the appropriate qualifications for their chosen degree. Having completed the one-year foundation programme, students are able to progress onto their chosen undergraduate course. Thanks to the Foundation Year, and a Cadoux-Hudson Foundation Scholarship funded by a donor, Ellie is now well on her way to achieving her dream of becoming a civil engineer.

“Lacking a Physics A-level, my confidence in progressing onto an engineering career was low. Most universities required both maths and physics in order to do civil/structural engineering, but once I discovered the foundation year, I knew this was my chance to work hard and get where I wanted to be.

“I want to be a person who makes a difference and thrives in a male-orientated career. A degree in civil engineering opens so many doors, into teamwork, management and the wide world of problem solving.

“My scholarship to Manchester has given me so much confidence. The feeling that people believe in my academic potential and want to see me succeed in my career: that is priceless to me.”

Looking to the Future

It is estimated that by 2022, the UK will need to have found 182,000 more people with engineering skills every year to fill a growing skills gap in the sector. It is obvious we’ll need more women engineers to fill this demand.

Ensuring and promoting access to engineering degrees for women could help to fill this shortage, as well as promote diversity and encourage innovation.

You can help more motivated and gifted students like Caroline and Ellen. By supporting scholarships at Manchester, you can ensure that no talent goes to waste.

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