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Image of young female engineer INWED19 #TransformtheFuture

International Women in Engineering Day is back! And, 2019 marks 100 years of the creation of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES). That’s 100 years’ worth of celebrating the achievements of female engineers.

But although 100 years has passed of knowing we need to praise incredible women and the many advances for female engineers along the way, there is still a vast under-representation of women in the engineering sector.

100 years later, let’s get a move on! 

To change the future, we must listen to the past

There was a time when women made up a huge proportion of the engineering and manufacturing industries. During World War Two, the shortage of the male workforce forced women into these roles – they became essential cogs in the war effort. Yet, their gender and ability to do these jobs was not questioned (although, their pay was significantly reduced).

Today, the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineers in Europe – just 12%. This hasn’t really improved since last year. In comparison, countries such as Cyprus and Bulgaria almost 30% of engineering professionals are women.

In an article included last year in The Engineer, the author thought the UK’s small percentage of women was puzzling ‘considering the UK was one of the first countries to allow women to study maths and science at an academic level.’ The author goes on to say that as well as this, we have had many famous female engineers such as Beatrice Shilling, an aeronautical engineer who invented a metal washer to prevent engines stalling, or Ailie MacAdam, who was behind the refurbishment of St Pancras Station in London.

This year’s theme for International Women in Engineering Day is #transformthefuture which seems perfectly apt.

But, with a clearly well-established history of female engineers and women studying STEM subjects, what are we doing wrong?

Engineering isn’t for girls?

From being young toddlers, many girls are taught to conform to stereotypes. Although there is a much greater emphasis at school that both girls and boys play with cleaning toys or building toys – their gender roles have often already been assigned. This has created an occupational segregation as societal attitudes perpetuate the myth that boys are good at maths and science and girls are good at English. According to the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, Physics is the fourth most popular school subject for boys whereas it’s seventeenth for girls.

Perhaps, it is simply a lack of awareness of what engineering is.  When you’re asked to think of what an engineer looks like, you see a man in a hard hat and a hi-vis jacket. You suppose that day in day out, they are surrounded by machinery, construction sites and maths equations.

Little is known about the other sides to engineering: the creative, the research, the project management side. Engineers help create our schools and hospitals, they are innovators of sustainable construction, they help build the world around us. Are people really aware of the impact engineers have?  

This all needs to change. We need to update careers advisors with the range of job opportunities that could come under engineering. We need to profile female engineers, bring them into schools from a young age and use campaigns to demonstrate what a female engineer looks like. We need to make and show that engineering is an attractive and fulfilling choice of career. These changes are already being fulfilled but we need to take them much further. Only then will it start to become part of our ingrained psyche. 

Maybe it's time to re-brand the image of an engineer, the way the women of World War Two did.

What can you do?

Here are five things engineering employers can do to inspire young women, improve workforce diversity and attract and retain women at all levels:

  1. Research gender issues: This will help an organisation better understand their own gender issues and inform the development of diversity and inclusion strategy.
  2. Profile women doing all jobs at all levels in the company: This will provide young people with visible role models and inspire them to consider careers in the sector.
  3. Create ‘toolkits’ and case studies to provide best practice advice to help your senior leaders and colleagues build and develop inclusive teams.
  4. Actively encourage flexible and agile working for all staff. This should be led from the top. Senior leaders, especially male senior leaders, should be seen to work flexibly.
  5. Establish women’s networking groups to help women, who may feel isolated as the only woman on site, gain confidence in their ability to make connections.

If you would like more information on how JFG Communications can help your company build a gender diverse workforce, check out Our Work or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..