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Women in Engineering: Solving The Gender Imbalance

5 Aug 2014
Laura Chalmers

Presently there is a significant gender imbalance within the engineering sector, with women currently making up less than 10% of the workforce. Alarmingly, we're continuously bombarded with news reports regarding the expanding skills gaps within technical fields and the gender imbalance in the industry.

The demand for engineering professionals is continuing to rise, yet the number of those going into engineering careers has stagnated. What can be done to demonstrate engineering as a gender neutral profession?

Laura Chalmers, Senior Consultant at Eden Scott, explains the opportunities available to women in the engineering.

What opportunities are there for women in engineering?

There are the same opportunities as there are for men, arguably even more at present with the current shortage of skilled professionals in the UK. Men currently occupy the majority of engineering roles, however this is due to a lack of females entering the industry over the past 10 to 15 years rather than opportunities being specifically closed off for women. Skilled candidates are highly sought after irrespective of gender.

Are women actively seeking roles in engineering?

Many women perceive a successful career in engineering as unatainable, ruling it out as a career option before even reading further into it. This can be due to the perceived ‘glass ceiling’ and sexism in a workplace dominated by men. There is also a supposed lack of flexibility when starting a family. Many companies are making steps to promote their workplace as one of equality and offer alternative options such as job shares for women who may want to take time to start a family, but do not want to give up their career altogether.

There has been a significant increase in the number of female graduates of electronics, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering courses, in 2011, there were over 2,500 female students who graduated from engineering subjects in the UK however, rather disappointingly only 27% of those went on to develop an engineering career.

With this in mind, some businesses have created female specific programmes. For example, Jaguar Land Rover has a specific Women in Engineering sponsorship for female students in the UK.

Do we have more female leaders in engineering now than 10 years ago?

There are, but there can be more. The number of female engineering managers my colleagues and I have been in contact with has grown extensively, and the proliferation of female engineers on a wider scale is also evident. Marissa Mayer, the President and CEO of Yahoo, is just one of many successful engineers who have gone on to become inspirational business leaders.

What can be done to attract women to engineering?

Education is key. Engineering is a core industry in the UK and it's vital that primary and high school pupils are informed of the plethora of choices available to them at an early stage.

Female specific engineering courses and schemes are becoming available, such as IEEE WIE,WISEWES and WiBSE, which enable women to kick-start their engineering careers. These schemes demonstrate the opportunities available to those in engineering, and provide a platform for business to attract the best female engineering talent.

Mentoring schemes and networks are also highly beneficial to attract women into engineering. The provision of advice, experience, resources and connections are instrumental in bringing more women into the profession. We also need the media to represent more successful women in engineering. Publicised examples of career development would be vital in inspiring women when making a career choice.

The Future

The UK needs more female engineers, and the opportunities available are vast. With initiative like WISE and university programmes, there are open paths to support women in the industry, however there is still room for radical improvement.

In particular, WISE is aiming to increase female engineers from 13% to 30% by 2020, both decreasing the skills gap and fostering economic growth.

By 2016, Britain will need to recruit over 96,000 engineers to replace those that are retiring. Women will play a pivotal role in this revolution.  

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