The study found only only 42 per cent of online 'people pictures' related to engineering depict women

Online stereotyping discouraging girls from engineering

Gender stereotyping on the internet is discouraging girls from entering into engineering career paths, according to Engineering UK.

The not-for-profit organisation, which promotes the engineering sector, launched a study assessing the way in which it is portrayed through images on the internet.

It found that a host of organisations - including universities, media outlets and search engines - are all guilty of reinforcing stereotypes through their choice of images online.

The analysis of engineering-related imagery from across more than 70 popular websites found:

  • Only 42 per cent of ‘people pictures’ online related to engineering depict women
  • Stock image sites and search engines are the worst culprits: image searches for the term “engineer’ found just 26 per cent of search engine results featured women and 25 per cent of stock images contained female engineers (compared to 85 per cent and 81 per cent of images featuring men)
  • Universities are the best at portraying gender balance in the sector, with 53 per cent of images including a woman and 80 per cent including a male

Research among 11-16 year olds has shown how influential online imagery can be.

29 per cent of those surveyed believe images used to represent engineering are not relevant to them, with 28 per cent of girls saying they are too male orientated.

Approximately one in ten girls said that images they have seen online have put them off a career in the sector.

Paul Jackson, EngineeringUK’s chief executive, said: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, it is extremely worrying that cyber sexism is rife when it comes to the depiction of engineers on websites used by young people.

“Engineers shape the world we live in and are behind many of the amazing everyday things we take for granted. Engineering isn’t just about men in hard hats.

“In the next decade, employers will need 1.82m people with engineering skills, meaning we need to double the number of apprentices and graduates entering the industry. We cannot afford to lose would-be engineers by carelessly reinforcing stereotypes and not showing the full scope of exciting careers available."

Jane Simpson, chief engineer at Network Rail, said: “We know role models are crucial to show girls and women what’s possible and so more and more we’re showcasing the women in our business and the work they do, so others can see people like them are working successfully in engineering.

“As the most senior engineer at one of Britain’s biggest engineering companies I hope I can also inspire others to see the fantastic opportunities engineering offers.”

Last month, the newly appointed president of the IET, Naomi Climer, said that employers are failing to take on more women of their own accord and should be given quotas in order to address the imbalance.

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