A career in engineering is not an attractive prospect for the vast majority of the female population.
Despite a concerted effort to encourage more women into the sector, the stats make for alarming reading.
Data from Engineering UK’s The State of Engineering report shows that only 12% of workers in the field are women. However, the sector as a whole accounted for 19% of all UK employees in 2018.
With the engineering facing increasing skills shortages, it doesn’t have the luxury of being an unattractive career path to 47% of the UK workforce. While this isn’t a new problem, current efforts to make engineering more attractive to women seem to be having little effect.
To find solutions to this problem, it’s important we examine the root causes of what it is about engineering that acts as a deterrent to women.
Why are there so few women in engineering?
Wider societal factors play a major role in dissuading women from considering a career in the industry.
Even from a young age, gender stereotyping discourages girls from engaging with STEM subjects. The toys they play with, advertising they are exposed to and images they see, all split professions along gender lines. As part of these stereotypes, engineering is portrayed as something which is done by men – including in the minds of parents.
At school, engineering has roots in maths and science, which are pigeonholed as ‘boy’ subjects. Even if this bias doesn’t put off girls from studying these subjects into their late teens, they’ll find themselves in an increasing minority. This is such a shame as statistics show girls often outperform boys in STEM subjects across both GCSEs and A-levels.
Being in a minority is another dimension which women must adapt to throughout a career in the sector. This can lead to everyday sexism from being excluded from conversations, to not having personal protective equipment which fits, as it’s been designed for men – all of which is unintentional, but nonetheless can become tiresome.
Given all the hurdles which women must overcome to enter, and then succeed in engineering, it’s no wonder that women shy away from careers in the industry.
What can be done to encourage females into engineering?
Changing first impressions of what engineering is for young girls will make a huge difference. The sector has often already lost before it begins to fight for their attention, due to the stereotypes associated with it..
Explaining what engineering entails, providing examples of female role models and even simply using different imagery, are all critical in engaging girls. Ensuring girls know the different opportunities available, and can picture themselves working in one of these positions, is a critical first step.
Combating existing stereotypes is also vital and rests with parents and teachers.
There’s no point in trying to persuade girls that engineering could be the career for them, only to have their parents or teachers tell them something different. Familiarising these key mentors with the opportunities available in engineering should reduce the number who dismiss the industry as a potential career path.
Companies and existing professionals working in the sector need to prioritise creating an inclusive environment for women. Get involved with the likes of the Women’s Engineering Society. The organisation is creating a network of women in the profession, including a mentoring scheme. By getting involved you can help tackle any isolation and encourage a positive image, can do ethic for women in the profession.
Higher numbers of women entering the engineering profession will erase stereotypes and provide role models for all females – this will have a knock on effect on the number of women who join the workforce.
But, there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done to reach the point where engineering becomes self-sustainingly popular among women. If the sector fails to put in the effort, it’ll continue to fail to attract women.