With more women choosing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers, progress has been made in closing the gender gap - but there's still work to do to attract qualified female engineers into this traditionally male-dominated industry

Statistics on women in engineering

  • According to EngineeringUK's 2022 Women in engineering report, females comprise 16.5% of the engineering workforce - up from 10.5% in 2010.
  • UCAS 2023 admissions data revealed that nearly a fifth (19%) of applicants for engineering and technology degree programmes were female, up from 17% in 2022.
  • Organisations such as WISE, WES and EngineeringUK are working to encourage more girls and women into this profession.

Addressing the barriers to entering the industry

There's still work to be done in breaking down the stereotype that engineering is predominantly a career for men. However, this is improving slowly, with many employers actively looking to attract more women.

Tasked with highlighting the career opportunities for girls and women in science and engineering professions, Women into Science and Engineering (WISE) seeks to encourage the employers it works with 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 future employees as well show that engineering doesn't necessarily mean wearing overalls and a hard-hat.

Another organisation that's looking to break down barriers for women in engineering is the Women's Engineering Society (WES). 'WES has a whole raft of schemes and initiatives in place to help showcase women in engineering,' says Candi Colbourn, events and marketing manager at WES.

'These include International Women in Engineering Day which is celebrated on WES' birthday on the 23 June every year and our wider awards programme including the Men as Allies and the Amy Johnson Inspiration Awards, and the WES prize at the Young Woman Engineer Awards organised by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). WES also offer mentoring, networking, events to support current and future women engineers.'

Raising awareness of female engineers in schools

Today, women represent around a sixth of the profession. To make further progress, more visible female role models are needed to show girls that engineering can be a great career choice while they're still at school, and any barriers preventing more women to apply or retrain are addressed.

Girls need to be encouraged to pursue subjects like maths, science, design and technology 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 can have a strong influence on what girls choose to study. Many girls miss out on following their passion to study STEM subjects because they don't want to be perceived as the odd one out.

As a not-for-profit organisation, EngineeringUK is committed to ensuring that more young people from all backgrounds are inspired, informed and progress into engineering and technology careers.

'We know that people start to form career perceptions and aspirations from an early age, so it's really important that we're effectively reaching young girls to spark their interest and passion for engineering and technology,' explains Eleanor Eyre, head of careers at EngineeringUK.

'Providing opportunities for high-quality STEM outreach at school, along with robust careers education and guidance, is essential for ensuring more girls pursue educational pathways in engineering and technology and progress into careers in the sector.'

In addition to running their own programmes and activities for schools, EngineeringUK also produce a range of careers resources and showcase diverse female role models through their Neon website.

Scholarships to encourage women into engineering

There are a number of ways in which universities, membership organisations and employers try to attract more females into engineering.

For example, the University of Warwick and Aston University both offer scholarships to female students studying an engineering discipline.

At Warwick, first-year female engineering undergraduates can receive £2,000 financial assistance for each year of their course through its Women In Engineering Scholars Programme.

The Women In Engineering Scholarship at Aston is worth £7,500 and is available to undergraduate and postgraduate female international students studying taught courses within the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Professor Kate Sugden, deputy dean of the school, explained, 'Aston University's Women in Engineering scholarships provide female international students from all countries with an exciting opportunity to not just study in key engineering and applied science fields, but also receive one-to-one career mentoring by a member of the school's senior team.

'This initiative not only fosters diversity but also underscores the vital role of inclusive education in driving global progress in STEM. Aston University is passionate about female representation in the engineering sector and we are proud to champion such scholarship opportunities.'

Read about International Women's Day 2024: Scholarships for women.

You can also do some research into what scholarships and bursaries are available at your chosen institution.

Campaigns and initiatives offering support

Employers such as BP, Jaguar Land Rover and Siemens run early careers events and workshops, provide networking opportunities and run training schemes.

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 include:

  • International Women in Engineering Day - Every year, the 23 June 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 12-month mentoring scheme for women in STEM roles. It's free for WES members, and costs £120 for non-members.
  • My Skills My Life - Started by WISE and targeted at a younger audience (11-19), My Skills My Life aims to inspire girls to consider careers in STEM, with careers resources and case studies available through its online platform.
  • Tomorrow's Engineers Week - Run by EngineeringUK every November, this annual celebration of engineering and technology careers is designed to excite and inspire the next generation. Primarily targeting 11 to 14 year olds, the week helps them to challenge stereotypes, discover the range of jobs within modern engineering and hear from diverse roles models.
  • 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 female engineers.

Recognising women in the industry

  • The IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards - These awards, organised by the IET, 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. Explore how to become an engineer.
  • The WISE Awards - An opportunity to recognise inspiring organisations and individuals actively addressing the core concern of WISE, which is 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 an engineer, it can be difficult to find out what's involved. So ask parents, teachers and lecturers if there is anyone you can talk to who is an engineer. Also, talk directly to companies and find out if they offer work experience.
  • Explore different ways to start your career - In addition to the traditional school and university route, an increasing number of engineering apprenticeships are available, up to degree level. These programmes allow you to mix learning on the job with study in a classroom, while you get to earn a wage.
  • Ignore stereotypes - They 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. If you're good in your area of expertise and if you believe in yourself, you can do anything.
  • Encourage and champion other women - It's important to work together to encourage other women into engineering and acknowledge their issues and barriers. By sharing experiences, fears and achievements, others will start to view engineering as a worthwhile and rewarding career choice.

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