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Book review: Women in Science, Engineering and Technology: three decades of UK initiatives

Women play an active role today in most occupations, but it hasn’t always been easy, especially in technical fields.  is an overview of the UK initiatives since the 1970’s designed to encourage girls and women into non-traditional jobs.

The book begins by describing the changing socio-political and economic climate over the last three decades which has provided a backdrop to initiatives focusing on getting women into technology roles.  The next two chapters cover initiatives for girls in education and women already in the workplace.  Chapter 5 covers socially-excluded women and training courses focused on encouraging them to take up ‘men’s’ jobs.  The last chapter looks at government and corporate activity around women’s participation in science, engineering, construction and technology in relation to economic priorities.  The author concludes that women are only encouraged to participate in non-traditional fields as long as it makes economic sense to do so. Equality of opportunity is not an end in itself.  The author stops short of proclaiming the need for government intervention – indeed, she says that the patriarchal constructs of state and big business make it unlikely that such intervention would succeed.

While that seems a very negative picture of women’s contribution to the world of science and technology, the book overall is very positive in recognising the work of many individuals and special interest groups that have had an impact on the career choices of women and girls.  The various initiatives described, combined with a changing educational and social climate, resulted in more women choosing ICT employment than manual trades.  However, the author believes this is more to do with ICT permeating every aspect of modern life, and “the unshakeable masculinity of the construction sector,” than any specific educational initiative designed to get women into technology careers.

The book is an academic text, but one that anyone with a specific interest in women in technology would find of relevance.  It raises questions about how education was approached in the near past: girls, for example, were taught about computers by using topics like celebrities and dance to keep them interested, rather than technology for technology’s sake or a route to a job.  This in turn raises questions about how we will view current educational initiatives – but Phipps acknowledges that her book is just the start of the analysis of this topic, and that initiatives surrounding women’s participation in science and technology are currently under-researched.

  • This review has been accepted for publication in The Computer Journal
  • Alison Phipps, Women in Science, Engineering and Technology: three decades of UK initiatives, Trentham Books, 2008. ISBN-13: 978 1 85856 402 9. £16.99. 610pp. Paperback
  • Elizabeth Harrin, The Computer Journal 2008; doi: 10.1093/comjnl/bxn044

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.

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