In the UK, only 12% of engineers are women.
While we have come a long way in the last 200 years, there is still much to do, for women to stand firm equal footing with men.
When given the opportunity to study the subjects required for an engineering degree, girls generally outnumber boys. So why don’t many choose engineering as a career, and why is it vital that we further encourage entry into the sector?
Many people still believe that these professions are not for women, that they should pursue careers in fields such as teaching or nursing. Let’s explore what misconceptions there are about the engineering profession and why more women should engage with them.
Why don’t women choose engineering careers?
The first reason is social. Having been raised by society to believe that men are breadwinners and women stay at home, traditional family roles tend to weigh more heavily on career paths. However, most construction companies offer childcare services for employees’ children and flexible working hours, allowing women to choose this path.
Another reason women avoid engineering is that they are only shown the stereotypical angle of the job. These professions get a bad rap, which makes them seem boring. For example, students can pick up a book on engineering and find photos of men in hard hats looking at blueprints. They may think that this is not for them without really knowing what goes on behind the scenes.
Another reason is that many think that women are at a disadvantage in these industries, either because they may not be strong enough to get the job done or because their voices will not be heard. The fear of sexism and having to work even harder just to be treated the same as their male counterparts is a genuine concern for many young women planning their careers. There are more accessible career paths to choose from that will allow them to use their skills.
If you are looking some good facts about women in engineering, you will find them here. Interestingly, these facts indicate that we not only have problems attracting women to the profession; we also have trouble retaining them. As a result, about 40% of women with an engineering degree do not go on to work in engineering positions.
This is obviously very unfortunate, considering that female engineers are in high demand. Women entering engineering fields tend to be highly skilled with relatively high salaries to match. So it’s not about not getting paid well, it’s also about not wanting the job once you’ve done all that work.
Why do we need more women in engineering and construction?
Engineering and construction jobs are vital to society as a whole. Many of the products we buy, from smartphones to cars to simple appliances, would not exist without them. Similarly, without the infrastructure that engineers work on, we could not live as comfortably as we do now.
None of this can happen without smart people who know how things work. If women are not attracted to the engineering and construction sectors, it simply means that employers will have a shrinking pool of potential recruits. Engineering could face a future labor shortage if more women are not brought into the profession.
Project teams also need diversity. Women may not bring any specific skills to the engineering profession – an engineer is an engineer after all – but they offer more diversity. Project teams work best when there is a diverse group of people challenging each other and reaching new conclusions. If engineers are only surrounded by people who look and think like them, the industry will never move forward.
And finally, another simple reason we need more women in engineering is that we must be able to inspire the next generation of female engineers. Without young women in engineering, there will be no one to teach the next generation of girls who can do this job. And if women choose to leave the profession, this will reduce opportunities for female-led mentoring.
Engineers are vital to society, and without them our modern lifestyle would disappear. Women make up half of the population; it makes sense that we include them in this field as well.
How can we address the gender gap?
There are many ways to do this. It begins by changing the perception of engineering and construction as an uninspiring profession. Once we eliminate the helmet and jumpsuit image sector, we can take action to address the gender gap.
There are also things employers can do, such as offering flexible work hours or daycare for children to encourage women to fill these positions. It often happens that women have to choose between their careers and caring for their children. So if they can find a company that understands how difficult it is for men and women to juggle work, they are much more likely to stick around.
And finally, we must change the way our society treats women in these professions, and not just women, all the people who don’t fit a “traditional” image. People don’t want to work harder than necessary due to discrimination, so it is important to establish a positive culture early on. And young women must be encouraged to feel part of this sector.
It is also important to rename UK engineering as a prestigious option. Around the world, an engineering qualification is considered on par with a medical degree. And those in the profession are treated with the same prestige as doctors. Regaining prestige and the opportunity for recognition could help attract more women to the sector.