Why the Engineering industry Needs More Women

October 31, 2022

It is no secret that the engineering industry has a gender imbalance. Men are vastly overrepresented in this sector, while women are significantly underrepresented. These inequalities appear to start in education and get worse once these graduates enter the workforce. Women are not only less likely to become engineers, but those who do are less likely to achieve top leadership roles within the sector. 

There are many reasons for this, but one of the main reasons is that women are less likely to be attracted to engineering as a career choice. In this article, we will explore some of the reasons why more women need to enter the engineering field. We will also discuss what can be done to bring more women into these careers.

How many women are in engineering?

The engineering field has long been dominated by men, but it is clear that this imbalance is getting worse, not better. Just 12.37% of engineers in the UK are women, and in education, the percentage is not much better, with just 14.5% of UK engineering students being women. The US is not doing much better, with only 19.7% of engineering students being women.

There are many reasons for this gender imbalance in engineering, but one of the main reasons is that women are simply not attracted to these careers. In a recent survey, only 25.4% of young women said they would consider a career in engineering, compared to 51.9% of young men. 

It could be a misconception about what engineering involves. Many young women believe that engineering is all about working with machinery and being good at maths when in reality, engineering is much more than that. It is a creative field that involves problem-solving and critical thinking. 

It is also a field with many different specialities, from environmental engineering to biomedical engineering. So while young women might hold the view that engineering is all about construction sites and hard hats, there is a wide range of roles available that may be more enticing.

Why do we need more women in engineering?

There are many reasons why we need more women in engineering. One reason is that engineering projects tend to be better when they are designed by a team that is diverse in terms of gender, race, and background. 

When engineers are responsible for designing built environments, there is a distinct benefit from having both male and female perspectives. If problems are only approached from a male perspective, this can lead to inequalities at all levels of society.

Another reason is that having more women in engineering can help to increase the number of women in leadership positions in this field. When there are very few women in leadership positions, it makes it more difficult for younger women to imagine themselves in this role. It also reduces the number of mentorship opportunities for young women.

And finally, equality is something that we should strive for in every sector. There is no reason to believe that women are any less suited to a role in engineering, so addressing these inequalities should be a priority for everyone. By addressing these qualities now, we can create a future where young girls feel that they are just as welcome in engineering as in any other sector, and there will be far fewer barriers.

Why don't women want to work in engineering?

There are many theories about why women don’t want to work in engineering. Here are just a few of the most popular theories about why women aren’t typically attracted to a career in engineering.

Perception

The most popular theory is an issue with perception. Women perceive engineering as masculine and unlikely to meet their career goals, so they dismiss it from a young age. 

Engineering has a reputation for being a dirty and hands-on career, but this isn't always the case. While there are some jobs that require hard physical labour, the majority of engineering roles are office-based, which could make them more attractive to female graduates.

University recruitment

Another common concern for women is that they will be the only woman on their university course. With men outnumbering women, there is the concern that it will be harder to make friends at university if you choose a course like engineering. 

By making more effort to achieve a 50/50 split of male to female students, universities could go a long way to make their courses more enjoyable for everyone. After all, many men on these courses are likely to want the opportunity to be able to meet women their age with similar interests.

Misconceptions about requirements

A lot of young girls are encouraged to focus on subjects like English, History and Geography, while young boys are often told they have a natural aptitude for subjects like Maths and Physics. In reality, girls often outperform boys in science subjects, and yet they are not always encouraged to explore this as a career.

From a young age, girls need to be made aware of the potential career paths available to them if they choose an engineering degree. And putting more women in senior levels of leadership in the engineering sector will go a long way toward allowing young girls to shape their ambitions.

Not supportive of young mothers

When female engineering graduates enter the sector, there is also the risk that they won’t stick around. With the sector being dominated by male graduates for so long, employers aren’t set up to cater to women, specifically those who choose to have children.

A lack of provisions for young women to return to work after having children makes it difficult for graduates to see themselves in this sector in the long term. It also means that women may progress to a certain level, and then feel that they have to choose between parenting or pursuing their careers.

How can more women be encouraged into the sector?

Looking at the concerns outlined above, it’s clear that more needs to be done to encourage women into the sector. Here are just some suggestions that schools, universities and employers could try to help encourage more women into this sector.

Clean up perceptions

Making it clear that engineering is not only for men – and that there are many different pathways available into the sector – would go a long way to helping young girls to imagine themselves in this career. This needs to start at a young age, as it will encourage young girls to focus on STEM subjects in school instead of feeling the pressure to pursue other subjects.

Put more women in leadership roles

Paving the way for more women already in the profession to take on leadership roles, would increase the number of female role models for young students, graduates and engineers. It would also help to stamp out any male-dominated culture that might exist in engineering firms.

Offer flexible working and childcare

Women need to know that their employers will support them in their careers if they choose to start a family. Offering both male and female engineers better childcare provisions and flexible working could help to encourage more women to enter the sector and stick around. Rather than leaving the sector for teaching roles, women can remain an active part of the senior leadership; but only if their careers are supported every step of the way.

Ask women what they want

Employers should open up the dialogue with women in their sector to find out what matters the most to them. This will help employers to create employment benefits packages that are attractive to both male and female candidates. For example, some people might favour financial remuneration, while others might be more interested in the possibility of achieving a healthy work/life balance.

Get rid of gender divides in play

Interest in engineering and STEM can often start at a very young age. While toys aimed at girls will often encourage them towards pastoral and care roles, toys aimed at boys will often encourage them to take an interest in how things work. By ridding society of norms around gender in play, we could go a long way in encouraging the next generation of female engineers.

While girls are often offered dolls and animal toys, boys are given trains and construction sets. As they get older, girls might receive cosmetic-making kits, while boys receive science kits. By getting rid of these divides and encouraging children to play with whatever sparks their curiosity, we could pave the way for the next generation of engineers.

Closing thoughts

Addressing the gender gap in engineering is not something that will happen overnight. When we’re talking about encouraging children to get more interested in science subjects, it’s clear that these steps are going to take a while before we can see any tangible change. But retaining the female engineers we already have – and putting more women in senior leadership positions – would help to create role models for young girls to see just how far they could progress as an engineer.

Nolan Recruitment is a Specialist Engineering Recruitment Agency. One of the UK's best Engineering & Technical Recruiter

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