A manufacturing group has called for a national campaign to increase the pipeline of female engineers.
A study of FTSE 100 companies by manufacturers' organisation EEF found that, of the 29 manufacturing firms on the index, women accounted for 19 per cent of board positions, slightly higher than the average of 17 per cent for all the companies.
But despite outperforming other sectors in female board appointments currently nine out of 10 engineers are male and just 20 per cent of the manufacturing and engineering workforce is female, the research found compared to 49 per cent in other sectors.
And the number of female engineers has increased by just 1 per cent to 6 per cent since 2008, compared with 26 per cent in Sweden, 20 per cent in Italy and 18 per cent in Spain.
The EEF partly blamed the failure to encourage young women to study science-related topics, which it said had left half of UK state schools having no girls studying A-level physics.
EEF chief executive Terry Scuoler said: "There is no getting away from the fact that women are substantially under-represented in manufacturing at a time when industry needs to be tapping into every potential talent pool to access the skills it needs.
"Some will argue for quotas for women on boards but this would not address the underlying need for a substantial increase in the pipeline of women with engineering and other key skills going into industry. We need a huge national effort to make this happen and government, education, and industry itself all have a major role to play."
EEF believes careers advice must focus on promoting science and engineering options at a much earlier stage in school rather than focusing on students who are 14 to 18, and manufacturers need to encourage its apprentices and graduates to back into their schools, colleges and universities to promote careers in industry.
The organisation’s FTSE 100 Women in Manufacturing index was launched in conjunction with Lloyds TSB Commercial Banking and Cranfield School of Management.
Dr Ruth Sealy, deputy director of the International Centre for Women Leaders at Cranfield School of Management, said: “Two years on from Lord Davies’ report on the lack of women on boards, whilst encouraging increases have occurred, we must not get complacent about the low numbers of women on boards.
“It is encouraging to see that the manufacturing firms are not slipping behind overall, but we need to maintain the pace of change. Boards need to champion the issue and take proactive steps to identify and develop talented individuals within their organisations for executive directorships.
“Mentoring is a vital activity to grow the female talent pipeline and enable high flyers to realise the possibility of career progression.”
A separate report released by leading think-tank the Social Market Foundation, entitled 'In the Balance: The STEM human capital crunch', predicts a 40,000 per year shortage of home-grown graduates in the STEM sector, and that the number of UK STEM graduates each year will have to increase by almost half.
Following the release of 'In the Balance: The STEM human capital crunch', the IET says it believes encouraging more females to become engineers will help to fill the void.
Michelle Richmond, director of Membership and Professional Development, said: “Too few women enter the engineering profession. The IET’s most recent survey of engineering and technology companies found that just 6 per cent of professional engineers are female.
“There is a misconception held by some that engineering isn’t a career choice for women. We need to reverse this trend, and change perceptions of engineering, to ensuring [women] receive balanced career advice and the right support from industry.”
The IET’s 2012 ‘Engineering and Technology Skills and Demand in Industry’ report shows that there is demand for new recruits but that employers are struggling to find staff.
Over the next year, 58 per cent of companies are planning to recruit, compared to just 36 per cent in 2011, and compared to a high of 63 per cent in 2008 before the recession.