Comments like ‘engineering is not for girls’ undermine female ambitions
Employers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) led sectors will need a million more engineers and technicians in the next five years and attracting more women into the industry is part of the answer, according to sector bodies.
Research by the Royal Academy of Engineering suggests that the country will need more than a million skilled employees in STEM based roles by 2020.
But to meet this demand, the current number of annual engineering graduates and apprentices will need to increase dramatically.
A study conducted by the campaign group Wise recently showed that the UK has the lowest proportion of women in engineering in Europe, with women making up less than 10 per cent of the workforce.
In response to this dual problem, of skills shortages and a lack of gender balance, leading industry names including Professor Dame Ann Dowling, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and Sir James Dyson, have called for a change in the way a STEM careers are promoted. They, and others, have warned that misperceptions about STEM careers not being for women must be tackled to avert the skills crisis.
The call to action comes ahead of the second annual National Women in Engineering Day (NWED) tomorrow (23rd of June 2015).
Dawn Bonfield, president of the Women’s Engineering Society, told the Independent: “Because it’s so traditionally acceptable for boys to go into the profession, they are pushed down that route by schools, parents, society – the pathway will open up easily.
“But with girls, parents and teachers will often say, ‘engineering’s not really for girls, what about something else?’ Pathways close, barriers are put in the way. They won’t identify with a career in engineering.”
Ann Pickering, O2’s HR director, commented: “National Women in Engineering Day is a great opportunity to celebrate the progress we’re making in bringing more women into a sector which has been male-dominated for far too long. We believe it’s crucial for a workforce to reflect its customer base - a diverse team is more productive and more innovative than one where everyone has the same views.
"This is as true for engineering as for any other discipline and is one we’ve seen first-hand. Our Network division has seen how well mixed teams work together, challenging each other to think differently and, ultimately, perform better than all-male teams.”
But Pickering added that she’d be “lying if I said that the job was done”.
She said that as an employer O2 were still seeing far fewer girls and women applying for engineering roles than men, which emphasised how much still needs to be done to show them that engineering – and the entire tech sector – offers an exciting and rewarding career.
“Businesses need to do more to showcase these opportunities and raise awareness of the issue, whether it’s going into schools and educating girls on careers in engineering, or offering quality apprenticeship programmes and mentoring schemes.”
To raise the profile of women in the sector, O2 has invited 100 female engineers and engineering students to the Horse Guards Parade at Whitehall tomorrow for a mass photo shoot. “We aim to showcase the opportunities for women in engineering – and set a Guinness World Record,” Pickering said.
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