In Engineering, it’s hard to escape the stereotypical vision of hard hats and blueprints. Imagination also leaves little room for female representation within the industry. It’s no secret that Engineering faces a serious gender imbalance. Despite all efforts to encourage women to study engineering, Q3 2020 data revealed that 14.5% of those working in engineering in the UK are females. Although this is a substantial 2.5% increase since 2018, this is nowhere near the desired levels.
Why is female representation at such a low level? Women have historically worked within professions which force them to embody the role of the caregiver within society (e.g., teaching or nursing). Despite girls typically outperforming boys when given the opportunity to study engineering, female engineers remain a minority. It’s commonly misconceived that women will either not have the strength or will be unheard when placed against males in the workplace. Sexism and the fear of being treated less than equal is a common fear amongst female engineers.
What causes women to leave engineering?
Around 40% of women that study engineering, do not progress on to work in the field. One study revealed that a lack of fellow female engineers and mentors created an isolated environment for them. Almost ½ of the surveyed women said they were discouraged by working conditions, such as too much travel, lack of advancement, low salary, or inflexible/non-supportive climates.
Alternatively, women who stay in engineering do so for the same reasons as men – company investment in training and development, contribution recognition, and advancement opportunities. It's important for organisations not to rely on innovations stemming just from males and females but from a diversity of cultures and ideas. Project teams work better not when there are more women or more men, but when there is a diverse group of people challenging each other to reach a shared goal.
How can we address the gender gap in Engineering?
1. Introduce Role Models.
Make engineering cool for women. How can a girl decide that she wants to be an engineer if she has no one to look up to?
2. Introduce work experience or apprenticeships.
The introduction of after-school, classroom programs could help girls recognise their interest in engineering, while simultaneously reducing the ‘male-only’ stigma associated with it.
3. Consider flexible options.
Flexible hours and childcare should be promoted to enhance the attrition rates of female employees.
1.8 million new engineers and technicians are needed in the UK by 2025. The industry needs to move away from the perception of hard hats and blueprints, to represent the diversity that organisations would like to attract. Stereotypes that evolve at a school level must be challenged in order to de-stigmatize the association of women in engineering.
At Kelly, we know how advantageous inter-organisational diversity can be in creating a successful system. We pride ourselves on maintaining and nurturing a diverse pool of talent to supply to our partners. Want to access the next generation of engineering talent? Find out more about how we can support your organisation here.