There are an alarmingly low number of female engineers in the workplace.
According to the 2017 IET skills survey, only 11 per cent of the UK’s engineering workforce is female. Additional research also showed this figure is the lowest percentage of women in engineering in the whole of Europe.
And in a world where their skills are in demand more than ever, early participation figures are grim reading too.
Statistics by the Women’s Engineering Society suggest:
- Only 16% of undergraduates in engineering degrees are female
- This percentage has remained static for almost five years
- Just 4% of engineering apprenticeships were taken by women
These numbers must grow, fast. Here’s why we need more female engineers working in the UK.
1. Greater Innovation & Creativity
One of the secrets to unique and useful ideas being created quickly has always been encouraging fresh perspectives.
Creativity and adaptability are essential character attributes for anyone working in ‘STEM’ industries. Traditionally these sectors have been built around the concepts of only one set of minds as 'STEM' roles have some of the largest skews towards male bias in the world.
Whilst there’s no denying that the areas of progress made in these branches has been extraordinary, they still have come from a narrower funnel of expertise than the majority of other innovation based industries.
In any business, a contrasting set of eyes looking at a problem from a different angle can point out a flaw or solution the status quo found impossible to comprehend.
Theoretically, increasing the number of women in the engineering sector could accelerate positive change across the globe at a rate not seen since the technological revolution.
2. Higher Profits
Gender equality should be a key objective for any business. But at the end of the day, turnover and/or profit is the KPI of almost every company.
Thankfully, entrepreneurs and managers are recognising that these two parameters of a business’ health are intrinsically linked.
A study by American management consultancy McKinsey found enabling women to meet their full potential in the workplace could generate an extra $28 trillion to annual GDP by 2025.
On a national level, this would result in an extra £2bn for the UK’s economy each year. There is such uncertainty encircling the UK’s economy because of Brexit and a shifting tertiary sector. Imagine what that extra £2bn could accomplish a year
3. Skill Shortage
It is now common knowledge there is a frightening skill shortage for ‘STEM’ professions in the UK. There is growing concern that the wider engineering sector will not be able to supply the workforce or ideas to meet demands of the country - and the world – unless urgent action is taken. And employers are feeling the squeeze.
- 64% of employers say a shortage of engineers in the UK is a threat to their overall business
- 33% are struggling to recruit quality STEM staff
- 20% find it challenging to recruit entry level candidates
This will only increase in the imminent future.
Newly created jobs will have to be filled in sectors that don’t even exist today on top of the perennial roles engineers have historically performed.
By 2022, the UK will need close to two million new ‘STEM’ professionals to keep pace with the increasingly high-tech society.
Why are there so few female engineers?
From top to bottom, the UK is failing to inspire female engineers to make a full career out of the engineering industry.
There is a unsettling lack of awareness at secondary school level about how wide ranging the opportunities in engineering are. Confusion surrounding what engineers do mean that only 31% of female students are fully informed of the extent of the options available to them.
Then there is the engrained gender bias to deal with.
The UK’s societal ‘traditional’ portrayal of male engineering professionals creates an unhelpful perception for young or aspiring female engineers. Teenage girls who are curious are often disenchanted because of their belief that they will have to work harder than boys just to be treated as intellectual equals, let alone earn the same down the line.
More worrying is that research by MIT shows that the male dominance is turning away many talented female engineers from the sector. When working in teams on group assignments, the old gender roles rear their heads all too often. This leaves many women feeling marginalised or left to do the ignominious jobs in a project.
Whether they mean no ill harm or not is irrelevant. For these archaic ideas by male students and professionals are one of the main reasons why 40% of women leave the engineering sector within three years of graduating from university.
A communication campaign has since been initiated by Engineering UK and associated sectors to improve this potentially disastrous direction.
Employers are beginning to offer women in the engineering sector allowances to re-enter the workplace without formal qualifications. Schools are paying experts to educate girls in schools about the opportunities and rewards women in engineering can achieve. It is hoped that this drive will be enough to initiate some positive participation shifts for female engineers in five years time.
Let us all hope that the statistics make better reading at the start of 2020.
Search Consultancy is an equal opportunities recruiter and we welcome applications from all suitably skilled or qualified applicants.
We are currently recruiting for a wide range engineering jobs across a wide range of sectors. If you have been inspired to apply for a job or to discuss how Search can help you fill a traditional hard to place vacancy, contact us today.