Being WiTTY for International Women in Engineering Day

Last Updated: 23 Jun 2017
Mathematician Emma explains why GCHQ's Women in Technology group is helping to address the issue of gender imbalance in STEM careers.

International Women in Engineering Day aims to celebrate the achievements of women engineers and focus on the opportunities for careers in engineering and technology for girls. 

Women in Technology (WiTTY) is a group to support women working in technology roles anywhere in GCHQ, and anyone, of any gender, who supports them. We hold events once a month to hear from inspirational speakers sharing their work and career experiences, discuss diversity issues and network.

I've been a mathematician at GCHQ for five years.  I've been involved in WiTTY since it began and now contribute to running the group. I've found the network to be incredibly supportive - there is a real community feel, which helped me settle in when I was a more junior member of staff. As I'm developing my career, WiTTY provides a great platform for meeting people from outside my immediate technical area. 

What do WiTTY want to see in the future, and what are we doing about it?

In the long term, we'd like to reach a 50:50 balance of men and women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) careers. The Institute of Engineering and Technology's figures are that only 9% of the UK's engineering and technology workforce are female. There is some way to go. 

This is a much wider and more difficult problem than just we in STEM at GCHQ can solve, but one thing we like is a complicated problem.  I'll describe the work WiTTY has planned to help increase the profile of, and support, women who work in technology at GCHQ. 

The figures, however, suggest the problem starts earlier than this - there isn't a 50:50 split of people starting out in STEM careers at GCHQ. To address this, we will continue to encourage women that GCHQ is a great place to work in technology. This includes giving advice on our recruitment campaigns to aim to remove any unconscious bias in job adverts, and contributing to careers fairs and university events to be visible role models.

The figures, however, suggest the problem starts even earlier than this! We don't have a 50:50 split of people applying to STEM graduate jobs at GCHQ. Therefore, we'll do the same things for apprenticeships, industrial year placements, and summer schemes to encourage women who have just left school, or are half-way through their degrees.

The figures, however, suggest the problem starts even earlier than this again - are you seeing a pattern here?! There isn't a 50:50 split of people studying all STEM subjects. So members of the WiTTY community will take part in the outreach work GCHQ does to create enthusiasm in schoolchildren for STEM. Tying into this, GCHQ's CyberFirst Girls Competition was a very successful recent opportunity for female schoolchildren to take part in a technical competition and consider a future career in technology.

Back to WiTTY's plans at GCHQ, the future events in the pipeline include the following:

  • For International Women in Engineering Day, we're going to hold a World Café event.  This is an opportunity to increase awareness of the contributions of, and the opportunities for, women in GCHQ's wider technical community. It will be a relaxed environment - people will bring along coffee and cake, and we'll share our thoughts on a series of questions posed by senior engineering figures in a structured networking environment. The questions are due to include: "What's your favourite new piece of technology and why?" and "What's the biggest issue for women in technology?"
  • We are running a series of lightning talks - short talks given by WiTTY members. This gives women in technology from different teams a chance to heighten their technical profile across the department, and gives newer employees (particularly summer students) a chance to see the breadth of work done at GCHQ.
  • This summer we've arranged for senior technical women to talk about their work and careers as inspirational role models for junior members of staff.
  • In September, as part of National Inclusion Week 2017 (25th September - 1st October), WiTTY will be arranging a HeForShe event. It will be similar to an event we ran last year, following up with our seniors who chose to commit to HeForShe, asking them to share what they have done to push forward on gender diversity at GCHQ.
  • We'll be contributing to the GCHQ Diversity conference, alongside our colleagues from other diversity and inclusion groups including the Pride (LGBT - Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender), and BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicity) groups, plus the disabled employee, and mental health networks.

So please join us in celebrating International Women in Engineering Day and we'll keep you up-to-date with what we have planned for the future.