Exploring the Gender Gap in Engineering

Exploring the Gender Gap in Engineering
Ian Davies

5 Mins minutes

Exploring the Gender Gap in Engineering

Females continue to be underrepresented across engineering. Join us as we look into the industry's gender gap and what is being done to close it.

Engineering has shaped the world and the way we live for as long as humanity has existed.

From Egypt’s Great Pyramids to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai; the Ford Model T to Bugatti’s record-breaking Chiron hypercar; the Wright Brother’s Wright Flyer to the imposing Airbus ‘Beluga’ cargo Aircraft; and much, much more – some of the most iconic creations in history have been dreamt up, planned, and built by genius engineers. And they’re just the headlines. Even the simplest, most seemingly insignificant things we use day-to-day will have been engineered to help make life – for the most part – better.

Through the centuries and decades, engineering has developed, grown, and improved at a daily, if not hourly, rate. However, as engineering advances, continuing to make breakthroughs across its variety of fields, the industry is still struggling to achieve something that has eluded it throughout history: gender parity.

Read on as we investigate the gender gap in engineering, the challenges the industry faces, and the actions being taken to try and create a better, more inclusive future for engineering and women in engineering.

Women in Engineering: The Challenges

In the UK, women continue to be underrepresented across engineering, with females only making up less than 20% of the industry’s workforce. And that’s despite – according to EngineeringUK – there being an upward trend in recent years. What’s more, in most cases, women are working in positions related to the core, more hands-on roles, rather than in core roles themselves.

It’s a similar story around the world, too. In the USA for example, whilst there has been an overall increase in women in engineering in the past few decades, the American Society of Civil Engineers highlight that only around 14% of engineers in America’s workforce are women. And whilst the signs of some growth does raise hopes for the future of females in engineering, the growth is slow.

There are a variety of reasons for there being fewer females in engineering than their male counterparts, including a perception that the industry is better suited to – and geared towards – men, and an overall lack of diversity and inclusion across the industry too, which is contributing to a lack of female interest.

EngineeringUK’s Secondary Education and Engineering briefing mentions that “far fewer girls compared to boys taking GCSE subjects such as engineering, computing and design and technology, though girls are more likely than boys to attain the highest grades in STEM subjects.”, with males making up an overwhelming majority of entries into further engineering education and apprenticeships too.

Therefore, whilst there are diversity and gender parity gaps within the industry already, the biggest challenge – to pique the interest of, and educate, more females in the future – is ahead of us, to not only diversify engineering but also meet growing demand for engineers.

Women in Engineering: The Actions

In the face of such challenges, institutions, organisations, and companies around the world are working tirelessly to find ways to make engineering a more inclusive and diverse industry. One that’ll not only provide women and other minority groups better opportunities for education and successful engineering careers, but also strengthen the industry further, benefitting from the skills, passion, and drive of more people than ever before.

Research carried out by EngineeringUK, and published in December 2023, highlights just a few ways to encourage female engagement and interest in engineering, including:

·         Engaging girls with engineering and technology activities at a young age

·         Including activities that challenge gender stereotypes around engineering and technology

·         Learning about the needs, interests, and preferences of girls when designing outreach programmes

·         Understanding the limitations of gender as a binary concept

·         The use of role models that are a similar age to help bridge the developmental gap between students and professionals

·         Showcasing a range of engineering and technology careers

Such actions are being driven by organisations and initiatives such as the WISE Campaign, who support companies in engineering to “achieve gender parity and benefit from better productivity, innovation and business performance… and strengthen STEM sectors by championing diversity of thought, background and life experience thereby making STEM inclusive to all.”

Meanwhile, events and occasions such as International Women in Engineering Day – created by the Women’s Engineering Society and celebrated every June – have raised awareness of the importance of in engineering, as well as the opportunities available to women and the engineering companies who could benefit from creating a more diverse workforce.

Women in Engineering: The Opportunities

Highlighting the gender gap in engineering, and the need to make the industry more diverse and inclusive, has encouraged companies across the sector to commit themselves to educating and creating opportunities in engineering for women and minority groups, to not only close the gap, but also build a better future for the industry.

In the UK alone, a number of engineering companies and other STEM organisations have become industry leaders as signatories to the WISE Campaign’s ‘Ten Steps’, an initiative that commits them to educating females and building a more diverse industry through:

·         Making a public commitment to improve conditions for women working in science, technology, and engineering as an essential part of the campaign to attract more girls into the sector

·         Supporting the Ten Steps as a framework for companies seeking to retain and develop female talent

·         Working with WISE to achieve better gender balance in the STEM workforce by using the Ten Steps to help us recruit, retain and develop women within their own organisation and also encourage others in the wider industry to do so

As outlined in EngineeringUK’s most recent Women in Engineering research, such commitments have helped to increase the opportunities for – and employment of – women in engineering, with the number of females in engineering roles increasing by almost double over a 10-year period.

However, there is plenty of work still to be done. And it’s vital that the engineering industry as a whole comes together to continue the upward trend and make engineering a stronger, more diverse and progressive place to be.

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