Automotive Needs More Women In Engineering

Automotive Needs More Women In Engineering

Today, only 12% of the British engineering workforce is female, yet women have played a significant role in the history of engineering which should not be forgotten within masculine industries like the automotive one.

This post reminds us of this, seen from the perspective of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) a charity and professional network of female engineers, scientists and technologists.

WES started life after World War I in 1919 and the photograph is of a group of its early members in the 1930’s.

About the Women’s Engineering Society

WES’s early members were campaigners, hands on engineers, inventors, designers, electricians, pilots, managers and administrators. Many were from the better off industrial middle or upper classes, but the organisation’s work included those working on the shop floor, encouraging them into management, formal education and the usage of engineering innovations such as the introduction of electricity into the home.

Dorothée Pullinger set up a factory in the West of Scotland to manufacture the Galloway Car, designed and built for women by women, which was initially very successful, issuing around 4000 cars until the economic crash of the later 1920s forced its closure. Her apprenticeship for women was two years shorter than the one usually served by men as she believed women learnt faster.

Margaret Partridge set up apprentice schemes for women, trained and encouraged women in ways to not only reduce domestic burdens but also to free up women’s time for leisure as well as opportunities to learn or work.

In 1934, Miss Jeanie Dicks, another WES member, secured the contract for the first electrification of Winchester Cathedral.

Laura Annie Willson was one of seven founding members of WES, a suffragette and a trade union organiser who was imprisoned twice for her political activities. During the First World War she managed the women’s section of her husband’s lathe factory as part of the war effort, was the first female member of the Federation of House Builders and built housing estates for workers equipped with the latest electricity and gas technologies.

Many of WES’s early members played a significant part in the aeronautical industries, working as designers, engineers and pilots in the 1920s and 1930s, transferring their skills into war work in WWII

Amy Johnson was the most famous WES member (and WES President 1933-4). She was renowned for her adventures as a pilot, was also a qualified engineer and worked hard to encourage and inspire other women to join industry and become qualified. 

Pauline Gower and Dorothy Spicer were just two of these pilots and engineers, Dorothy becoming the first person to hold all 4 different types of aeronautic licenses. They worked in partnership giving hundreds of flying demonstrations across Britain, and later running an air taxi service, before joining the war effort in WWII. Pauline established the women’s branch of the Air Transport Auxiliary, effectively becoming Amy Johnson’s boss.

Beatrice ‘Tilly’ Shilling, originally one of Margaret Partridge’s apprentices, went on to invent an adaptation to Spitfire and Merlin engines (nicknamed Miss Shilling’s Orifice by the RAF) which stopped the engines flooding during manoeuvres, preventing the aircraft from crashing.

This is thought to have played a significant role in Britain’s ability to win the Battle of Britain, yet she is only known to subject specialists, rather than being a famous name with films inspired by her work as happened to many male engineers of the era.

How Male Mentors Can Help Women In Engineering

WES’s work in improving the rights of women in the workplace would have been impossible without male allies such as Sir Charles Parsons, inventor of the turbine engine, who were able to use their social standing and personal experience to make the case for women being a positive addition to the engineering workforce.

Sir Charles’s son and heir was called up in WWI and died near Ypres in 1916, so his daughter Rachel Parsons was brought into run parts of the family business, developing the experience and knowledge which gave her the skills and contacts essential in her role as the first president of WES. Her mother, Lady Katherine Parsons, then became the second president.

Both women used their social position, engineering skills and hands on experience of managing industrial works for the benefit of WES members and other women in the engineering and manufacturing workplaces.

For More Information about the Women’s Engineering Society.

More News

FOXY Car Reviews
FOXY Information
FOXY Top Tips
Women in the Motor Industry
FOXY Blog Archive


Vuelio - Top 10 UK Automotive Blogs
Don't ignore your tyres - check them once a month