When many of us think up images of engineers it is men in hard hats that will pop into our heads, images on search engines flood our screens with these exact images, there is a gender stereotype attached to what it is to be an engineer and this is a stereotype that has been built throughout the history of engineering. There are no requirements that state you must be male in order to study or work towards pursuing a career within the engineering industry, yet men still make up a such a huge percentage of these professionals and a lot of women are deterred from actively making the steps towards a career within engineering due to this.
June 23rd 2017 marked International Women in Engineering Day, this international campaign was set up back in 2014 by the Women’s Engineering Society. Due to the skills shortage which costs the UK £27bn a year, and gender gap within the engineering industry this campaign has been used to raise awareness of women working within the engineering sector and it also highlights career opportunities as well as different routes to becoming an engineer.
It is very well documented that the engineering industry is predominately made up of men, why are women the minority? What is stopping women from pursuing careers within the industry? We live in a day and age where it is drummed into us, and the up and coming younger generation that equal opportunities exist for all and gender barriers are constantly being broken down.
Despite gender equality as it stands today there is still such a low percentage of women studying towards a career in engineering and going on to becoming registered engineers and technicians.
According to the Women’s Engineering Society:
- 9% of the engineering workforce is made up of women
- 6% of registered engineers and technicians are female
- The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe
Although these statistics indicate a very low percentage of females within the engineering industry in a survey of 300 female engineering professionals 84% of them stated they were either happy or extremely happy with their career choice. Positive statistics like this can be used to encourage the future generation of young women considering careers within the industry, they show that a career in engineering can be very rewarding.
Bridging this gender gap can go on to help improve the skills shortage within this industry, the key is pinpointing why so few women decide to study and work to become a professional within the engineering industry, what can be done to encourage more females to consider engineering as a career?
This gender gap has been an issue for many years and it is not just in the work place that this issue is evident, it can also be seen throughout education. Subjects at school can be seen as gender specific, statistics show more women commonly choose to take subjects such as health and social care and English where more males chose to study subjects such as mathematics and science. With these gender divides already becoming apparent so early on it makes it a lot more difficult to bridge these gaps later on down the line.
Due to maths and science subjects being more popular amongst males it then leads women to believe careers relevant to these subjects, such as engineering, are roles ‘for men’, which is untrue! With a male dominated industry such as engineering there is a false impression that women trying to work towards a career in this field will fall victim to sexism in the workplace which is a very common misconception, these industry myths need to be addressed and rectified so the stigma attached to male dominated industries are abolished, which will take time. Gender pay gaps are still common within the industry, but this gap is becoming increasingly less so this should not be a deterrent, and this is an issue that effects a number of different industries.
Seeing as the issue of women choosing to not enter into the engineering industry begins at education level it is important to change the mind set from this stage! Encourage more girls at school to pick subjects that the boys predominantly pick, build their confidence so that they truly believe they are equals and not to feel intimidated by the fact they’re a minority in the class. Introduce these girls to positive female role models from within the industry, women who have worked hard to achieve their dreams despite all the obstacles they have faced due to their gender. Focus on apprenticeships, this gives the future generation hands on experience within the industry, they can see first-hand what it is like to work as an engineer, rather than being put off by what they have may heard and what have been lead to believe the industry is like.
The skills shortage has such a huge effect on the engineering industry and work needs to be done to resolve this, investing time and money into children and young adults in schools, college, and university is crucial. If all the negative connotations linked with being a ‘woman in engineering’ can be eradicated before these children grow up and begin working towards their chosen career paths as young women a lot of the hard work has already been done. Building up women of the future when they are at an impressionable age is key. By doing this more women will enter into this male dominated industry and as a result will then have a positive effect on the skills shortage that is massively effecting the engineering industry.
Some influential women in engineering:
Roma Agrawal CEng MIStructE MIET FRICS moved to the UK from Mumbai at the age of 16 to study her A Levels. Roma is quoted to say ‘It is so important for teachers, careers advisers and role models to show young women that they can succeed in traditionally male disciplines as well’, during her education she was never discouraged when it came to studying science based subjects. With a lot of hard work and passion Roma is now an Associate Structural Engineer. Outside of her day job Roma also promotes engineering, scientific and technical careers to young people and particularly to under-represented groups such as women. Roma also offers to present to schools, students and media about engineering and women in male-dominated professions.
Dr Michèle Dix is the Managing Director of Crossrail 2 and was recognised with a CBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list. Sir Peter Hendy CBE-London Transport Commissioner has said that Michèle is ‘the best transport planner in Britain. She is a female pioneer in the male-dominated world of civil engineering and transport planning’, an amazing and well deserved acknowledgement. Michèle, as part of the not-for-profit Future of London project, encourages women into the transport and engineering industry as well as mentoring up and coming London leaders.
Dame Ann Patricia Dowling OM DBE FRS FREng OM DBE FRS FREng is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and the first female professor at the University of Cambridge in 1998. She is also the President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Academy’s first female president. Sir John Parker GBE FREng, the former president is quoted to say ‘I am delighted that Dame Ann Dowling has been elected as the next President of the Academy. As a world-renowned engineer, researcher and academic leader, she will be an inspiration to the profession and equally to those considering engineering as a future career’. Dame Ann was listed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom by Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 in 2013.
These women are shining examples of what can be achieved by choosing careers in engineering. They have been recognised for their hard work within their profession as well as the work they do to encourage young people, in particular young women to pursue careers in this male dominated industry.
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