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Women's Engineering Society Celebrates 95 years

23 June 2014

On 23 June the Women's Engineering Society (WES) celebrates its 95th anniversary as a charity supporting and inspiring women in engineering and allied sciences. A membership organisation for women engineers, its aims are to support and represent its individual and corporate members, to promote the education of engineering, and to help engineering companies to become more gender diverse. 

WES has launched the inaugural National Women in Engineering Day (NWED) on 23 June 2014 to celebrate this anniversary, which aims to draw attention to the work that women do in engineering and to showcase the great engineering careers that are available to girls. This day has had a huge impact with over 70 events taking place nationwide and more than 200 schools celebrating the day.

WES is also delivering a schools outreach activity to draw attention to the pioneering work of our women engineers by replicating the aircraft wing building activity that took place during World War One. Magnificent Women (and their flying machines) also aims to bring the stories of our pioneering women to life, and to deliver careers education to girls who often don't realise that engineering careers are suitable for them. This is an activity that one of WES's Past Presidents, Amy Johnson, would have been proud of.

Dawn Bonfield, Executive Vice President, works as a volunteer for WES comments: 'I am really proud to be working for an organisation which has done so much to represent women in an industry where it has taken a lot of determination to succeed in the past. I am optimistic now though that this is changing, and we have seen so much progress lately in recognising the importance of gender diversity to organisations that I am confident that things will continue to improve. There is still a lot of work to do - especially in getting engineering to be understood and recognised by young girls as a valuable career, and in retaining women at the top end of their careers. WES will continue to work towards the implementation of the improvements that we believe are necessary to make this change. Please join us if you believe that you can support our work.' 

The Early Days 

The First World War transformed women's role in relation to work, and more critically engineering. Previously for 100 years there had been a ban on women working as engineers, backed by powerful organizations like the Amalgamated Engineering Union.

The Munitions Act of 1915 meant women were drafted in their thousands to play a key role working in munitions and aircraft building factories and to fill labour shortages, and in 1919 the Sex Disqualification Act made it illegal to exclude women from jobs on the basis of their gender. When the war finished, however, the Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act forced women to leave their war time roles, turning the clock backwards.

This was the point at which the Women Engineering Society formed "to enable technical women to meet, correspond....and facilitate the exchange of ideas ...respecting the interests of technical women". Its magazine "The Woman Engineer" was crucial in allowing scientific and technical papers by women to be published, as these were not allowed in the scientific journals of the day. The journal is still in print today, but thankfully its role in publishing technical papers is no longer needed. WES held its first International conference in 1925, and WES is celebrating today on its 95th anniversary with another conference, Women in Engineering: The Challenge, taking place at IMechE in London. 

WES in Peace Times

Another milestone in getting women into the workplace in significant numbers was the work done by the WES and its offshoot the Electrical Association for Women (EAW) to encourage women to use electrical appliances in the home. The use of washing machines and vacuum cleaners gave women more time, and allowed them to get jobs outside the home in greater numbers. WES still has the teatowels, dusters and 'pinnies' made to encourage women to use electricity in its archive, as can be seen from the teatowel below teaching women how to wire a plug.

WES Today - Join us and Let's Work Together

Today WES is still an influential membership organisations which supports women engineers, and campaigns for more diversity in engineering. It welcomes partnerships with organisations who take this agenda seriously, and who want to ensure that we do not spend another 95 years with an unbalanced workforce. 

WES receives no funding from government sources and needs financial help to survive. Please get in touch if you would like to work together. 

WES is grateful for the support of its partner organisations The IET, BAE Systems, Arup, Bam Nuttall, Bureau Veritas, DP World, Edwards, Hyder Consulting, Instron, Malvern Instruments, Matchtech and National Grid

For more information, please contact:

Dawn Bonfield
Women's Engineering Society
Michael Faraday House
Six Hills Way
Stevenage
Herts
SG1 2AY
Tel:  +44 1438 765506
Email: info@wes.org.uk
Web:  www.wes.org.uk
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