The gender gap in engineering refers to the industry’s underrepresentation of women. Despite efforts to increase diversity in the field, women continue to fill far less engineering roles – especially at managerial and director level.
According to a report by the Women’s Engineering Society, females make up only 12% of the engineering workforce in the UK – with just 9% of engineering professionals being feminine.
The same report found that 46% of engineering companies in the UK have no female employees in their engineering departments. Research conducted by the Royal Academy of Engineering and WISE also found that, on average, female engineers earn an average of 11% less than their male counterparts.
In terms of education, women make up around 19% of engineering and technology undergraduate students in the UK (according to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency). However, it’s not all bad news; the number of women studying engineering and technology has been increasing in recent years, with a 50% rise in female engineering and technology undergraduates between 2011 and 2019.
These statistics highlight the significant gender gap that still exists in the engineering industry in the UK, but also suggest that efforts to address this issue may be having some impact.
Why are women underrepresented in engineering?
There are many factors that contribute to the underrepresentation of women in engineering, and it’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.
However, here are several common reasons why girls and women are less likely to pursue a career in this industry.
• Stereotypes and biases. There is a persistent stereotype that engineering is a male-dominated field, which can make it difficult for girls and women to envision themselves as engineers. Additionally, research has shown that both explicit and implicit biases against women in STEM fields can lead to discrimination and barriers to entry.
• Lack of role models and support. Women who are interested in engineering may have difficulty finding role models and mentors who can provide guidance and advocacy. A lack of supportive networks and resources can undoubtedly make it more challenging for women to succeed, or even visualise themselves succeeding.
• Curriculum and educational environments. Some have suggested that the way engineering is taught and presented in schools may not be as engaging or accessible to girls and women. In particular, a lack of diversity in faculty and students can make it difficult for them to feel welcome in engineering programs.
• Perceived work-life balance and job satisfaction. Some women may view engineering as a demanding and time-consuming career path that is not compatible with family or other life goals.
The latter issue becomes all the more pertinent when we consider the role that women continue to play in the ‘average’ family dynamic. In March 2022, ONS found that employed women with dependent children spent more time on unpaid childcare (an average of 85 minutes per day) and household work (an average of 167 minutes per day) than employed men with dependent children (56 and 102 minutes per day, respectively).
When you bear in the mind the various aforementioned roadblocks that women can experience in engineering – such as workplace biases and a lack of supportive networks – the territory can become untenable.
What can be done to increase the number of women in engineering?
There are a number of strategies that can light the initial spark for girls to become engineers. Some potential approaches include…
• Start early. In order to encourage girls to become engineers, it’s key to introduce them to the field at a young age. This can include providing STEM toys, games, and activities, as well as exposing them to engineering concepts and careers through outreach programs and events.
• Highlight diverse role models. It’s important for girls to see women who have successful careers in engineering. Highlighting diverse role models who have overcome barriers and achieved success in the field can help inspire and motivate girls to pursue their own engineering careers. From personal connections to school visits, visibility couldn’t be more imperative.
• Create supportive environments. This will help women and girls to not only feel confident in the engineering space, but stay in the profession for longer. This can include providing mentoring and networking opportunities, creating more diverse and inclusive engineering teams, and implementing policies that promote work-life balance and flexibility.
• Connect engineering to real-world issues. Some girls are more likely to have an interest in engineering if they see it being used to address real-world problems and make a difference in people’s lives. Highlighting the impact and potential of engineering in areas like sustainability, health care, and social justice can help make the field more appealing across a broader spectrum of young people.
• Address stereotypes and biases. Finally, it’s important to address the stereotypes and biases that may discourage girls from pursuing engineering careers. This can involve promoting positive images of women in STEM fields, challenging gendered assumptions about what kinds of work are “appropriate” for girls and women, and creating more inclusive and equitable educational and workplace environments.
As you can see, addressing underrepresentation requires a multi-faceted approach across education, the workplace and even the home. However, a short-term strategy can have long-term effects.
Once girls can see their mothers, aunts and sisters succeed in engineering, it’s far easier to envision wearing the same shoes – and then take the first step up the ladder. This positive cycle is key to closing the gender gap for good.
Championing the Success of Women at CME
CME is proud to employ many incredible women in engineering – and hopes to welcome lots more.
Velichka Koeva, the company’s Technical Author, is responsible for the production of manuals, parts lists and full documentation packages for the bespoke systems manufactured by CME.
She has a Masters Degree in Civil Engineering and Construction, and her career to date includes a range of Design, Technical Management and Project Management positions, primarily within the construction sector.
Here’s some sage thoughts and advice that Velichka had about closing the gender gap…
• Be confident. Many women don’t feel comfortable instructing men – but you should be mindful that you are strong and capable of the success that you seek.
• Engineering is a very interesting profession, but you should expect it to challenge you. It’s not easy – So you do need to be driven! However, it’s also extremely rewarding and certainly worth that effort.
• Think carefully about the different engineering roles available to you, as some will have more flexibility. This is especially important if you have children. Some roles will involve a lot of site visits and travel, but others – such as design-led roles – are more flexible and easier to balance with your home life.
• Companies in the UK are taking positive steps to increase inclusivity. At CME, everyone is treated equally – For example, we have a monthly women’s lunch where we meet and talk about female issues. This sense of community and support is really important. It’s helped me to grow in the business, as well as learn about new fields – such as mechanical engineering.
By working together, more women can enjoy successful careers in engineering. CME is proud to be a contributor of positive change in our industry.