How can the built environment industry attract young woman in the field
Research done by the Centre for Research on built environment and engineering in South Africa, has shown that women represent fifty two percent of the African population. In South Africa, female students constitute fifty three percent of all higher education enrolments and fifty eight percent of first degree graduates. However, only few graduates, that graduates in the built environment field.
The Women in Engineering and the Built Environment programme (WiEBE) at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) was initiated in 2006 in response to the lack of a national, coherent programme that supports both students and professional women in Women in science, engineering and technology (SET) in South Africa. In 2009 the University agreed to a partnership with Group Five to host the programme. The Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment has approximately seven thousand students studying towards qualifications in engineering science, engineering technology and the built environment. In 2009, 25% of the undergraduate students were female.
The number of female staff is fewer than 10% of the total number of academics in the faculty. The WiEBE Programme is an example of a broadly focused higher education institution social programme specifically targeting school girls, teachers, female students, woman academics, woman industry professionals in SET.
The UJ-Group Five WiEBE Programme has three primary objectives:
- firstly to attract women students to the faculty to continue their studies in engineering or the built environment
- secondly to provide a support network for professional and academic women engineers and built environment professionals
- thirdly to market the faculty as a source of graduate women engineers to industry.
This programme has a vision to support and develop professional women in industry and to become the preferred faculty for young women to study higher degrees in engineering and the built environment.
The WiEBE programme targets:
- engineers and built environment practitioners
- current students
- secondary school learners
- The community.
Several interventions are planned each year to strengthen these areas and attain tangible objectives in each.
Academic and Emotional Support
WiEBE is very aware how different university is from school. Not only do first years need to adapt to the tremendous increase in workload, they also have to adapt to a new city; to the lack of parental and sometimes financial support; to the lack of emotional support of home and family life; and to the many attractions offered by this freedom. Youngsters decide to leave engineering in the first year due to the high work load and difficult academic curricula.
They also leave later in their academic careers due to an inability to adapt to the many changes; psychological conditions that have not been resolved effectively; pregnancy and a lack of financial support. A network of women students in engineering therefore offers valuable support and guidance from peers to younger females entering university life.
School Visits and Open Day
SWiET visits schools to educate school learners about professions and options in the built environment and engineering environment. One of the initiatives of SWiET is to host young women at the FEBE Technolab, where they have the opportunity to design and create artifacts’ with Lego blocks and software. Also, SWiET has partnered with the Math and Science Centre at UJ to provide tutorship to young women interested in pursuing technical careers.
The Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, together with industry partners, offers many opportunities for financial support and bursaries for students. It is important that school learners are aware of these opportunities and thereby broaden their choices. It is unnecessary for a young woman to forfeit the opportunity to study engineering due to a lack of money.
As a community and strong network of professionals and students, the programme can contribute to increasing the number of graduate women engineers and built environment professionals; it can change the perception of technical careers; it can help develop more fl flexible working environments; it can bring relief to poor communities and improve the quality of life in the city and the country; it can promote financial independence; and it can recognize women for the contribution they make to the economic development of South Africa.
The built environment industry still needs to do more in order to attract the young woman to the industry. Most young women are threatened by the industry and still feel it’s not environmentally friendly. Most black women enter the field between the ages of 18-20, fresh from high school with no supportive system at all, and when they get to the industry they find it hard to liaise with males thinking that they too young and inexperienced to be in this field.
Another challenge that woman do experience is to get more exposure in the field work due to the nature and danger of the field. There are no bursaries for woman to encourage them to study this field, and again it is a male dominating industry for one to be taken seriously and all of this makes the industry unattractive.