The low number of female engineers in the UK still comes down to the fact that it is seen as a ‘boys’ job’, according to the views of engineers.
The main reason why we are failing to see an increase in the number of female engineers, cited by 74 per cent of industry professionals, is that engineering is still seen as a ‘boys’ job’. The perception is accentuated by a lack of encouragement at school and home, with almost two thirds of engineers saying that the profession is not encouraged as a career option at school. 60 per cent say it is not backed by family.
The findings from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE)’s research are not particularly festive as we celebrate the National Women in Engineering Day on Tuesday. To counterbalance the male dominance in the sector, 43 per cent of women said more flexible working patterns would be beneficial, compared to just 28 per cent of men responding. Almost a third of women said that a focus from senior management on increasing numbers for female engineers was needed, while only 20 per cent of men concurred.
“We cannot afford to rule out 50 per cent of the population, just because the profession is seen as a ‘boys’ club’, said Helen Meese, head of engineering in society at IMechE. “At the same time, engineering is a fulfilling and creative career. Why shouldn’t girls have the same opportunities as boys?”
Parents could be limiting their child’s future career decisions by having outdated perceptions of the jobs they think boys and girls are interested in, as recent research from the IET showed. Only seven per cent of UK parents thought that engineering would appeal to their daughters and said girls would be most interested in education and children careers (32 per cent), arts-based careers (29 per cent), healthcare (26 per cent) and hair and beauty (23 per cent).
National Women in Engineering Day (NWED) – set up by the Women’s Engineering Society – is designed to raise the profile of engineering and to encourage more women to join the industry.
Sixth-form student Masooma, from Ark St Alban’s Academy in Birmingham, is one woman celebrating, having just secured an engineering apprenticeship. “Ever since I’ve been a very young girl I’ve always been very interested in the things that surround us, what they are made from and how they are made," she said.
“Everything around us is engineered – the chair you’re sitting on, the laptop you’re writing on, this school building. The world around us is developing all the time and engineering is involved in all of that. I want to be involved in the future, to find solutions to problems and be part of the development that happens around us every day.”
Elsewhere, women from Network Rail’s south-east region gathered at the site of a railway construction project to celebrate NWED, among many other events taking place across the country. Network Rail has set itself a target of increasing the proportion of women in the firm from around 14 per cent currently to 30 per cent.
Sharon Fink, mother of three-year-old Max, is a health and safety manager at Network Rail. “I’ve been working in the rail industry for 20 years. I changed my career through that time, as I started in HR where there were more women.
“Having a young child can be difficult at times, but my husband and I have learned how to negotiate our weeks and we start the week with our diaries and plan out who is dropping off and who is picking up and it works well.”