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Why has Engineering Suffered From a Lack of Women?

The number of female engineers in the workplace has historically been alarmingly low. The engineering workforce was 91% male and 94% white at the start of 2018. So the government and industry are combining forces to recruit young people to train in engineering and benefit from support and funding initiatives as they do. The timing has never been better for women to begin training in engineering and the career prospects are very promising as companies will be incentivised to populate their workforce with women and a more diverse range of professionals.

Only around 1 in 10 engineers were female, according to IET skills surveys from a decade ago. Which is actually the lowest proportion for the industry in any country in Europe. And even early participation figures for women in the engineering field were low. As both engineering degrees and apprenticeships showed a massively disproportionate imbalance in favour of men.

Engineering can be a very rewarding and inspiring career that allows you to have a real impact on the world around you. There are opportunities to join the wave of new female engineers who can truly make a difference in the industry.

So Why the Shortcomings?

For a while, the UK engineering industry has been failing to inspire young women to invest their time into forging a career as an engineer. Secondary school education showed a startling lack of information for students about how diverse and far-reaching the opportunities are in an engineering career. The confusion around what an engineer actually is meant that a large number of female students were not aware of what options are available in engineering.

Then, of course, there has been a historically ingrained gender bias. Societal traditions in the UK once portrayed the engineering profession as a male-dominated field, and this was a damaging perception for aspiring female engineers to contend with. Any curiosity that arose in teenage girls was likely to end in disenchantment as the belief grew that they would be unable to compete with boys even in hopes of being treated as intellectual equals. And earnings figures down the line didn’t make nice reading for women.

Research from MIT also seems to suggest male dominance was may have prevented many talented female engineers from succeeding in the sector. Team situations in group assignments tended to see the old gender archetypes come to the surface too often, leaving many women feeling sidelined or assigned the lesser jobs of a project.

Inspiring the Next Generation

Thankfully, the playing field is becoming more even day by day, and the future of women in engineering looks brighter now than at any other point in history. With more government funding for STEM subjects being directed into education, it also means we can expect to see more women with the skills to fill the broad scope of engineering roles in future.

Nationally there is a shortage of engineers and this shortage is far greater for women in engineering. The percentage of women fulfilling engineering roles in the UK is just 11%, making the UK the nation with the lowest percentage of women in engineering in Europe. Since 2015, this problem has been a highlight of British politics with the 2010-2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government calling for increased support in helping women in engineering and promoting engineering training for women as early as pre-school.

Women in engineering returned to the spotlight in 2018 with a Year of Engineering. Pushing to close the major engineering skills gap in the UK. The pioneering campaign looked to boost the number of young people and women in particular entering into engineering apprenticeships and degrees. There is a current shortfall of 20,000 engineering graduates every year and this is damaging the growth of the industry.

International Events

One of the best ways to increase the awareness of the opportunities available in the industry is through events. And there were a host of them in 2018. February saw the Ontario Science Centre celebrate the women and girls of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The event was sponsored by technology giants such as Cisco, Honda and Telus, and had speakers such as Keeley Aird, the co-founder of STEM Kids Rock and Emily Chung PhD, a prominent science and technology writer.

It’s great to see that events like the one in Ontario, and INWED, have some very big sponsors. Honda we already mentioned, and INWED is sponsored by industry heavyweights such as SSE, and Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport. It’s a clear sign that female engineers are really starting to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts, and that’s fantastic news for the engineering industry.

There were also a host of other events which took place in 2018. Events such as INWED 2018. INWED stands for International Women in Engineering Day and is a global spectacular of at least 150 events. It spans countries as diverse as Brazil, Uganda and Mauritius. The theme for 2018 was #RaisingTheBar. This had the goal of encouraging governmental, educational and professional engineering institutions to arrange events in line with the day. As you can see there is a global demand for inspiring events celebrating and supporting women in engineering.

What’s more, employers are now beginning to offer sector allowances to encourage women into the field of engineering, and the profile of women in engineering is being raised all the time thanks to the work of inspiring female engineers.

The opportunities are increasing, and there has never been a better time for women to get into the field. So head over to TTE and see how engineering training could set you on the path to the success you’ve always dreamed of.

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