The field of engineering is quite possibly one of the most fascinating industries to be working in right now. The rise in 3D printing technology, driverless cars, robots in the subterranean and trips to Mars all point to an exciting era ahead. Yet despite lots of work being done to encourage more women into engineering roles to help address the skills gap in the sector, women still only make up a small percentage of the engineering workforce.
Awareness initiatives such as International Women in Engineering Day, school programmes and the use of a specialist engineering recruitment agency, for example, are all helping to promote women into an industry presenting a huge diversity of interesting, exciting and rewarding roles. Let’s explore some of the facts.
Despite women accounting for 51% of the population, the ratio of women to men working in engineering roles is radically different. Numerous statistics are in circulation citing women as accounting for approximately just 10 – 12 % of workers in the sector within the UK. Currently, the UK has the lowest percentage of professional female engineers in Europe.
A low rate of female students studying engineering is one of the contributors to the modest numbers of women in engineering roles. Work has already been done and there are future plans afoot to combat this issue. The enrolment of women in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) is thought to be a key indicator of how many women will move on to engineering careers. In India, the figures paint a different picture with women representing 30% of engineering students.
In some STEM occupations, it is now possible for women to earn more than men. These fields and roles within engineering typically include mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, architectural and engineering managers.
Alice Perry was the first woman to achieve an engineering degree. Originally from Eire, Alice switched from studying art to engineering. She was also a poet and a feminist and went on to become the only female County Surveyor in Ireland.
The departure of women from the field of engineering is perhaps one of the most significant prompts for change. 40% of women who achieve an engineering degree do not go into the field at all, or leave their engineering position. As a result of these stark statistics, the curriculum has changed, but this does not impact the women who are leaving once into an engineering position.
Despite the discouraging statistics, it’s worth pointing out that although there is a steep hill to climb to get more women into STEM roles and disciplines, with a particular emphasis on engineering, the numbers are improving. In 1960, just 1% of engineers were female, a rise of 10-11%.
Ada Lovelace is widely recognised for her role in writing algorithms for a computing machine invented by mechanical engineer and inventor, Charles Babbage in the 1800s. Named the ‘Analytical Engine’, Ada wrote an article on this very complex machine which used a punch card as an operating system. The machine was never actually made, but the design and concepts behind it possessed all the elements of what we know now as a modern-day computer.
According to research cited by WISE, in the UK, there are more than 50,000 women in engineering positions which is double that of the statistics from 2009. The report also points to an increase over the past 10 years in the number of female science, engineering and technology managers. In 2009, this stood at 13%, rising one percent in 2019.
The UK centre of the code-breaking mission during World War II, Bletchley Park, along with its outstations, in Milton Keynes was worked in by over 8,000 women. Their average age was under 24 years old and their roles involved operating code breaking machinery, traffic analysis, intercepting transmissions and compiling data.
Responsible for designing, developing and managing the manufacture of electrical systems, equipment, engines, electronic devices and components, electrical engineering covers a wide scope. Some of the most in-demand engineering jobs include robotics engineers, production managers, manufacturing engineer managers.
According to Engineering UK, girls do not think that the field of engineering is reserved only for boys. Just under 95% say that it’s a suitable career choice for both boys and girls, and 56% of girls said they could become an engineer, compared to 71% of boys.
Compared to the rest of Europe, the UK has the lowest percentage of women in engineering positions. This statistic is around 11%, with countries such as Cyprus and Bulgaria leading the way with 30%. There has been lots of calls for better representation as research has demonstrated that motivation, retention, productivity, group problem solving, and financial performance all improve with it. According to a report on gender disparity on Engineering.co.uk, as technological advancements increase, so does the acute need for harnessing women’s potential in engineering.
With a clear mixture of positive steps forward and some strong historic examples of female engineers, there are still many obstacles to change the outlook for women in engineering roles in the UK. This issue continues to rise up the political agenda as more and more evidence comes to the fore about the economic benefits of a more balanced representation in the engineering workforce.