Women in engineering – where are they?

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It’s a shocking fact that the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe. There are 5.6 million people employed in the sector across the country, but only one in 10 of these are women. Added to this, there’s the fact that we have an estimated annual skills shortfall of up to 60,000 within the industry – which means that there’s a real demand for talented engineers.

 

This topic has been discussed many times. Just last month, we celebrated International Women in Engineering Day highlighting inspirational role models like Hayaatun Sillem, Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Ailie MacAdam, who has led some of the world’s biggest engineering rail projects and Sophie Harker, one of the youngest people to achieve Chartered Engineer status at just 25 years old. We know that this is an industry in which females can thrive, so why aren’t they taking up the opportunity?

 

Research from Microsoft suggests that the problem starts early on. Their survey found that girls in the UK become interested in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) just before 11-years-old, but this drops sharply when they turn 16 – around GCSE age. As a result, during their A-levels, females are less likely to sit an exam in these subjects, which means that they don’t go on to study them at university. 

 

Therefore, one way to improve the gender gap is to encourage females to pursue a career in engineering while they’re still at school. A major concern is that, even at this age, STEM jobs are perceived as male dominated. Without a clear female role-model, or an active advocate for this choice – be it a teacher, parent or community leader - some pupils may worry about being the only girl in their class. The fact that girls attending single-sex schools are more likely to continue studying STEM subjects lends support to this theory.

 

Why does this matter? Well, because the answer to the current skills shortage in engineering could be female. As a report from the WEF points out, we’re entering a Fourth Industrial Revolution which will fundamentally change the way we live. To do this, we need a steady supply of talented engineers. Not only this, but companies with a higher proportion of women in top management perform better. Research by McKinsey shows that a lack of diversity can affect your financial performance – from the average ROE (Return on Equity) to your stock price growth. A varied team, with different experiences and viewpoints is, ultimately, a more creative team, which is a huge advantage.

 

One way to tackle this is to follow in the footsteps of engineering billionaire James Dyson, who is creating his own talent pipeline through the Dyson Institute of Technology. Last year, the company welcomed 43 undergraduate engineers in its second cohort – 40 per cent of which were female. Given that women make up just 15.1 per cent of students on engineering university courses in the UK, this is an impressive figure which reflects the fact that Dyson has been successfully engaging with young people across the board.

 

However, it seems that the problem doesn’t stop here – it’s also true that women tend to leave the industry at a higher rate than men: 45 per cent of female engineering graduates don’t enter the profession and 67 per cent leave by the age of 35. In a report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 63 per cent of women surveyed in the UK said they had experienced discriminatory behaviour, 62 per cent said it was easier for men to progress in their sector and 52 per cent said women are at a disadvantage when returning from maternity leave. To retain these professionals, perhaps workplaces also need to change, reflecting on how they can ensure equal opportunities at all times.

 

The good news is that awareness is increasing. Turning the tide is possible if schools and companies commit to tackling the issue head on. “It’s crucial to put the work in to reach the point of critical mass, where you have a diversity of role models who make it clear that this company is somewhere you can feel comfortable”, says Ashley Unitt, co-founder and CTO at NewVoiceMedia. “You need to celebrate your success stories and profile your role models – that’s how you build momentum.” There are many women in engineering speaking up about the need for change, and every voice is valuable – as every female who receives mentoring and support to progress will, in turn, become a role-model themselves.

 

At Murray McIntosh, we’ve taken time to invest in our people and as a result, we now have a team of expert recruiters who are ready to help you make the most of your career. If you’re looking for your next opportunity within the engineering industry, we have a wide range of roles available below. To get in touch, call or email info@murraymcintosh.com

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