Can Girls Engineer? – Creating Diversity in the Engineering Industry

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Date of Publication: 22 January 2020

It’s coming up to four years since Engineering UK released their ‘State of the Nation’ report, which drove attention to the UK’s engineering crisis. In summary, the report found that there were less people training in engineering than were retiring and/or leaving, ultimately leading to a shortage.

The report concluded that the UK would need 69,000 new engineers each year to meet demand, whilst at the time of writing the report, the UK only had around 46,000 engineering students. 

 

Why is there a shortage?

In short, the report explained the shortage being down to;

‘despite numerous campaigning initiatives over the past 30 years, there has been no significant advance in the diversity or make-up of the sector. In particular, the gender participation of women into engineering must change.’

As of their latest report in 2018, Engineering UK discovered that currently, ‘12.37% of all engineers are women in the UK.’ Though this may seem like a concerningly low number, this is a steady increase on the first report in 2015 which found only 9% of the UK’s engineers were female. 

 

Why is it growing?

In 2020, the skills shortage in the engineering sector is well and truly recognised. More and more projects are available in schools which show the sector in a new light, drawing in the interests young students – and particularly, girls.

There are plenty of schemes across the country which encourage women to get involved with engineering. To name a few: Women’s Engineering Society (WES) offers a variety of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) opportunities, Women in Science & Engineering (WISE)’s People Like Me campaign; and plenty more.

 

Is it enough?

It’s too early to make predictions on whether the recent efforts of the government and other national corporations will help accumulate the number of engineers the industry needs. As we’ve seen above, the percentage is still low, and we’re still working to break down the stigma of engineering being a male dominated industry. 

Helen Wollaston, the Chief Executive of Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) has said that:

Getting the numbers we need is the primary driver – but there is a growing recognition that diverse teams – not just women but people from different communities, cultures and ages – produce better results.’

The cultural shift shouldn’t be from creating a quota of the number of female roles we need to have by a certain date. Of course it helps, and there are plenty of benefits out there which are helping women to get onto the career ladder in some of the UK’s leading engineering companies. But if we have a quota for women, then we need one for other minorities too – races, ages, cultures and communities. If it’s a nationwide problem, then we need the nation in its entirety to help overcome it.

 

Advice for future female engineers:

  • Shut down the stereotype – There is a staggering number of online searches for questions such as ‘can women engineer?’ and ‘which branch of engineering is best for women?’ There is no right or wrong answer, and the question is down to your qualities, rather than your gender. If we continue to put the barrier of gender in front of the problem, then we will never erase it. 

Do you enjoy finding solutions to problems? Do you want to help make an impact on the future? If the answer is yes, then you certainly have the qualities necessary for becoming an engineer. Believe that if you are good in your area of expertise and you enjoy the subject, then you can succeed in engineering!

 

  • Channel your confidence – Engineering can be a difficult industry and you may sometimes find yourself in situations that see you outside of your comfort zone. But if you adopt a strong attitude and put your mind to it, you’ll develop and grow your confidence – a great trait to carry into any industry!

 

  • Gain experience – It’s hard to make a decision about your future career without having any experience in the sector. Try asking local businesses about work experience, or take a look at a short engineering summer school to get a taste of the subject in a real world context.

 

  • Look for advice – Speak to your parents and teachers and see if they have any contacts you can speak to in order to gain a better understanding of working in the sector. Also look for companies who are willing to offer advice. Companies such as WISE can help you seek professional advice about working in the sector if you get in contact with them.

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