Generally underrepresented in STEM industries, the engineering sector is working hard to recruit more female engineers and address the gender imbalance
In 2019, just 12% of the engineering workforce is female, according to the updated EngineeringUK The state of engineering report. This figure is disheartening, but organisations such as the Women's Engineering Society (WES) and WISE work towards encouraging women into the sector, with the help of professional organisations. Discover what is being done to increase opportunities for women in engineering.
Why more female engineers are needed
'Engineering is diverse, creative and exciting, and offers the opportunity to do something life - or even world changing, but the lack of women in the sector is a huge problem,' says Jo Foster, equality, diversity and inclusion manager at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).
'Our failure to attract enough women into engineering is contributing to the national skills shortage. There are so many global and local challenges that engineers need to crack, with not enough engineers available to do so.'
'There is a wealth of evidence which demonstrates that greater gender diversity makes companies more adaptable, more productive and more responsive to what their customers are telling them,' says Helen Wollaston, chief executive of WISE. 'It's clear that to get ahead in STEM, companies should be recruiting, retaining and developing female talent - and that failing to do so will mean being left behind.'
'We want to make it clear that engineering is a fantastic career for women and there are thousands of female engineers doing amazing things,' adds Jo. 'From designing our future cities and transport systems, to making advancements in healthcare technology and space exploration.'
Campaigns to encourage women into engineering
'There are fantastic initiatives out there that help to highlight the range of careers available in engineering, and shine a light on those already working in the industry,' explains Jo. 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 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (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.
- 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.
Campaigns such as these clearly have an impact. According to new research by WISE the UK is on track to achieve a million women working in core STEM roles by 2020.
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 Women's Engineering Society (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 - 'Ask parents, teachers and lecturers if there is anyone you can talk to who is an engineer. Also talk directly to companies to find out if they offer work experience. WISE can help with this so speak to us,' says Helen.
- 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.