Home » International Women's Day » Reinventing the image of engineering for female students

Dr Breda Brennan

Head of School of Engineering, DkIT

Proactively empower women into engineering roles. Through STEM outreach and inclusive education initiatives, we can close the gender gap in engineering.

Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) is celebrating this year’s International Women’s Day through the lens of engineering. The School of Engineering was recently awarded the extremely prestigious and much sought-after Bronze Athena Swan accreditation.

The Athena Swan charter is a framework used across the globe to support and transform gender equality in higher education and research. This application was spearheaded by Dr Breda Brennan, DkIT’s first female Head of School of Engineering, who was only appointed to this position in the last 12 months.

Addressing gender gap in engineering

With female engineers representing just 12% of the profession in Ireland, along with the latest data from the Higher Education Authority indicating that only 23% of engineering graduates are female, the School of Engineering in DkIT attaining this Athena Swan Bronze accreditation is a step in the right direction for the Institute to help address these national statistics and support female engagement within this highly in demand industry.

Inclusive engineering education advocacy

The theme for IWD 2024 is Inspire Inclusion; Dr Breda Brennan feels strongly about striving to embody that message within the School of Engineering, saying: “As the new Head of School of Engineering and having worked in higher education for 30 years, I am committed to facilitating and driving cultural and structural changes, which will remove any barriers to equality, diversity and inclusivity for both students and staff. I have a strong interest in providing educational opportunities for all.

I am also acutely aware that we need to be visible in the communities that we serve. Inspiring inclusion with children as early as possible is absolutely key. The opportunity to present engineering as a career option can significantly alter gender participation rates in the future. It is proven by research; every industry is more productive and excels if it has equal contribution from both genders.”

Only 23% of engineering
graduates are female,

Celebrating STEM outreach inclusion

Taking its inspiration from the recent success of the School of Engineering, the institute’s annual International Women’s Day event will celebrate and shine a light on the importance of female STEM school outreach at both primary and secondary levels, aiming to inspire inclusion throughout all of its STEM subjects.

Key speakers will include Gareth Kelly, one of the engineering lecturers responsible for primary school outreach. He says: “I work with children from the ages of 7–11. At that stage, girls and boys don’t believe in gender role barriers. Having the opportunity to introduce them to engineering at this early stage is absolute magic, as many young girls and boys dream of being astronauts or professional footballers.”

Engaging secondary school girls

Maryellen Kelledy straddles both academia and enterprise. She is Chief of Staff for Overhaul, a global supply chain company and lecturers in electronic engineering, bringing real-life engineering experience to the highly interactive roadshows she helps to roll out in female TY secondary schools.

She says: “Outreach in secondary schools is extremely important. Unfortunately, some of the same-gender schools don’t have as much access to information on engineering. It’s amazing, the reaction I get when I explain that every product needs to be engineered in some way — from cars to mobile phones to mascara brushes.”

Shaping a gender-inclusive industry

Dr Brennan advocates for proactive engagement throughout the educational journey of female students, foreseeing a positive shift in industry gender balance. This entails ongoing efforts — from promoting engineering programmes among females through collaboration with primary and secondary schools to ensuring equal opportunities for success within the institute’s own engineering programmes.

The overarching goal is to foster a culture of inclusivity and equality among both staff and students, ultimately boosting female graduation rates and participation in this dynamic and sought-after industry.

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