There are now more than one million women working in core STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) roles across the UK - but to keep this number moving in the right direction, there's still work to be done
Thanks in part to organisations such as WISE and the Women's Engineering Society (WES), that work to encourage more women into the sector; females now comprise more than 24% of the core-STEM workforce. The number of women in engineering roles has almost doubled over the last decade, from 25,000 to just over 50,000.
While this signifies excellent progress, the campaign to encourage more females into STEM careers doesn't stop here.
The sector is aiming for a target of 1.5 million women working in STEM by 2030. This would equate to 30% of the workforce being female. 30% is seen as the 'critical mass level', where a minority group of women would have the ability to affect real change.
Why more female engineers are needed
'There are 6.1 million engineering roles in the UK and recent figures suggest that a further 1.8m engineers are needed by 2025. This leaves us facing a massive engineering skills gap in the UK. To close this and ensure we have the talented engineers we need for the future, we must recruit more widely and more inclusively,' explains Kay Hussain, chief executive officer of WISE.
'A gender balanced, diverse and inclusive workplace, which represents all parts of society, is more important than ever before to ensure we do not miss out on potentially game-changing talent that will allow us to tackle some of the biggest challenges we face, such as sustainability and climate change.'
The main barriers for aspiring female engineers
There's still work to be done in breaking down the stereotype that engineering is predominantly a career for men. 'This has made it harder to attract female talent,' says Kay. 'This is improving slowly with many employers actively looking to attract more women.'
The lack of female role models is also an issue. 'To make further progress, we need more visible female role models working to excite girls about engineering careers while at school and encourage more women to apply or retrain,' adds Kay.
Young girls need to be encouraged to pursue subjects like maths, science and engineering while at school and be given access to STEM programmes and initiatives at this stage in their education.
'At a young age, peer pressure has a strong influence on what girls choose to study. Many girls miss out on following their passion to study STEM subjects because they do not want to be perceived as the odd one out. At WISE we also encourage employers to engage directly with their local schools, colleges and universities and provide opportunities for students to get involved with real-life engineering challenges. This is a great way for employers to meet their potential future employees as well show that engineering does not necessarily mean wearing overalls and a hard-hat,' says Kay.
There’s also the worry of the glass ceiling in STEM fields - the fear that women are prevented from pursuing or reaching the same career or salary heights as their male counterparts.
Campaigns to encourage women into engineering
There are a number of initiatives that showcase the variety of careers on offer in the engineering sector, help to encourage young talent into the industry and highlight the great work already being carried out by female engineers.
Here's just a sample of what's being done to inspire more young women into engineering roles:
- International Women in Engineering Day - Every year on 23 June this day focuses on and celebrates the outstanding achievements of female engineers. From debates and competitions to networking breakfasts and open days, events are held across the UK.
- WISE campaign - WISE enables and energises people in business, industry and education to increase the participation, contribution and success of women in STEM.
- Top 50 Women in Engineering (WE50) - WE50 publicises the great things which women routinely achieve within engineering to both recognise women currently in the profession, and to inspire a new generation of women into the sector.
- MentorSET - Run by WES, MentorSET is a mentoring scheme for women in STEM roles.
- People Like Me - Started by WISE and targeted at a younger audience, People Like Me aims to support the recruitment of girls into STEM subjects post-16 - particularly those not typically chosen, such as physics and engineering.
- University initiatives - A number of institutions, such as the University of Bath, University of Bristol and the University of Sheffield, run their own women in engineering initiatives, which provide information and highlight opportunities for aspiring female engineers.
How women in the industry are recognised
- The IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards - These awards honour the very best early career female engineers working in the UK. Awards include Young Woman Engineer of the Year (YWE), the Mary George Memorial Prize for Apprentices and the WES Prize.
- The Karen Burt Memorial Award - Each year WES asks professional institutions to nominate their best newly chartered female engineer. The award was introduced to encourage more women to aim for chartered engineer status.
- The WISE conference and awards - An opportunity to recognise inspiring organisations and individuals actively addressing the core concern of WISE - promoting STEM to girls and women.
Advice for aspiring female engineers
- Be confident in what you do - Adopt a 'can-do' attitude. It isn't always going to be easy, you'll be pushed out of your comfort zone, but that's the best way to develop and grow.
- Seek advice - 'Unless you know someone who works as engineer it can be difficult to find out what's involved, so ask parents, teachers, lecturers if there is anyone you can talk to who is an engineer,' advises Kay. 'Also talk directly to companies and find out if they offer work experience. Many WISE members and partner organisations do this and so we can help, ask us.'
- Explore different ways to start your career to find the one that's right for you. Kay points out, 'as well as the traditional school and university route, there are an increasing number of apprenticeships available. These allow you to mix learning on the job with learning in a classroom up to degree level, and all the while you're earning.' Learn more about engineering apprenticeships.
- Ignore stereotypes - Stereotypes remain a prominent part of the engineering world only if they are acknowledged as a barrier. They need to be broken down and forgotten about. In the grand scheme of things if you're good in your area of expertise and if you believe in yourself, you can do anything.
- Encourage and champion other women - This is important as we need to work together to encourage other women in to engineering and show them that we understand their issues and barriers. By sharing your own experiences, fears and achievements, others will see engineering as a worthwhile and rewarding career choice.
Find out more
- Search postgraduate courses in engineering.
- Find out how to become an engineer.
- Learn more about graduate engineering jobs.
- Read about the biggest challenges facing the engineering sector.