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International Women in Engineering Day: Mentoring for all ages

23 Jun 2021 | Dr Debra Croft In advance of an innovation conference hosted by CONCYTEC in Peru, Dr Debra Croft, Advance HE Associate and Founder of Cr: EECK (Croft: Education, Equality, Choice & Knowledge) talks about mentoring in a science context for HE and industry, as part of International Women in Engineering Day.

As a science postgrad and beyond, I’ve worked in HE since 1998 and have mentored women of all ages. My first activity was a Women in Science event for young women solving a crime on Campus. Since then, alongside the day job(s), I’ve tried to say yes to most opportunities to encourage and support women in education, study, research, career progression and in the community.  

After finishing at Aberystwyth University as Director of Equality, Widening Participation and Social Inclusion in 2019, I joined Advance HE as an Associate. The first project in 2020 was working with the British Council in Peru to continue their work in supporting and promoting women and girls in science, technology and innovation. 

Ever grateful for the essential support from Advance HE’s International Team of Kristian Rumble and Bianca Moone, we delivered four half-days of training to more than 150 prospective mentors in Peru. In the heart of the pandemic, this was on zoom with breakout rooms, largely synchronous, with some prep and homework, a mix of context, information, lectures, group work and experienced guest contributors from Peru, England, Wales and America. Many firsts for me – online for such a large group, working with simultaneous translators, and three time zones, amongst many more; every day has been a school-day for most people in the last 15 months! 

This intro course was followed up with in depth structured interviews of key academics who took part - and a report on recommended next steps on setting up mentoring within HE in Peru. And then an invitation to take part in the Innovation Conference this June. A real privilege to help make a difference to a country’s ambition to change the lives of women and girls.  

The last 18 months has involved me taking leaps of faith, using my coaching and mentoring experiences, making changes to my own life and career, and taking account of my own white, global north, educated privilege. Nothing prepares you to coach and mentor others more than your lived experience of change, innovation, management and reflection. And the greatest of these is true reflection, with humility.  

My passion for equality of opportunity hasn’t diminished over time – it glows hotter and brighter than ever. We can all make a difference – indeed we all need to.

Think about R. - asked to leave school at 17, a passionate physicist, for whom school didn’t work. 15 years later, after giving her the chance to carry out a Nuffield Research project over the summer, and persuading the department to offer her a place without the necessary academic qualifications, a BSc, MSc, a great first job with UK security and defence contractor and a recent move to a ground-breaking engineering company, making real difference to UK economy and research.  

All that talent could have been lost...sad? No, I’m still angry! R. is one of many, at all stages of their careers. On this International Women in Engineering Day (and every other day as well), let’s support young women to reach their potential and follow their dreams; support all women to reach their full potential and dare to succeed. 

International Women in Engineering Day is an international awareness campaign which raises the profile of women in engineering and focuses on career opportunities for women in the sector. It is celebrating its 8th year in 2021.

The 'Gender Equality Colloquium: Advancing gender and sex equality through research design' on 15 July will offer insights and solutions for redressing the gender imbalance in HE through research design. Join the conversation and book your place.

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