Girl power: attracting women into engineering
The world of engineering is a hugely male dominated sphere with less than 10% of the engineering workforce being female. To combat this statistic, a multi-pronged strategy is required from schools, universities, and employers.
So why are there so few women in engineering? In a similar way that there are very few female lorry drivers or small numbers of female firefighters, engineering is seen as a masculine job. The macho nature of the role is exaggerated so that in popular culture all engineers are thought of as hard hatted, plaid shirt wearing men blessed with a more muscular physique who are as handy with a hammer as they are networking with colleagues. Traditionally, it has been viewed as a difficult world for women to break into and it shouldn’t be.
Girls need to be lured in by the awe and wonder of physics. It’s not just boys who love finding out how things work, solving problems and building machines. Girls are often pigeonholed from an early age. If a teenage girl were to show an iota of interest in physics, they’d need to be encouraged, not dissuaded as is happening now. Schools need to highlight famous female scientists, explore their achievements and show them to be exceptional role models, not solely for young girls, but for boys too. In a perfect world, we would banish the gender stereotypes from the science lab. For now, we need to sway the balance in favour of the untapped talent harnessed in teenage girls up and down the country.
Engineering departments of universities could go into schools as youngsters are choosing their A-Levels to demonstrate the appeal of aeronautical, mechanical and civil engineering. By taking in female university students, they can begin to engage the fifteen year old girl, who has a natural aptitude for physics but is unsure of her future career and is being influenced by friends to take a different path. By showing the potential university experience, degree course outlines and job roles, teenage girls can become more engaged and fired up about a potential career in engineering.
It’s vital that engineering companies reflect and ensure that their recruitment procedure doesn’t favour the suited and booted male and that it is all-inclusive. Implicit bias still sees companies selecting the less skilled and qualified twenty-something male over his female counterpart because of the worries of pregnancy and maternity leave.
There are many outstanding female engineering graduates out there. If employers are struggling to source these individuals, it pays for companies to look into employing the services of specialist engineering recruitment firms. These firms take on board an employer’s requirements and identify talent irrespective of gender. Being removed from the internal culture of a business gives third party recruitment firms an objective view of the recruitment process, filling vacancies with the best candidates, male and female.
There is much still to be done to attract more females into the sphere of engineering. If schools, universities, and employers took a more active role in promoting the advantages of an engineering career to girls and women, we could see a narrowing in the gender divide.
Are you a woman considering a career in engineering? How are you finding it?