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Public considers engineering a 'male profession', says IMechE

The majority of the public still consider engineering as a ‘male’ profession, according to a new survey from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

According to the survey, 66 per cent of the public associate the term ‘engineer’ more with men, with just over a quarter (27 per cent) saying they associated the term equally with men and women.

Poll results show that 40 per cent of the public think the current image of engineering is deterring women from the profession, compared with 21 per cent saying it is deterring both men and women.

The findings coincide with the appointment of the Institution’s new president Group Captain Mark Hunt, who intends to encourage greater diversity during his tenure.

‘I want to use my year as President to demonstrate what engineers have to offer society, and to broaden public awareness of how engineers are improving the world we live in,’ he said in a statement. ‘I also want to help galvanise action to inspire the next generation of engineering innovators and work hard to encourage more diversity in the industry.

‘Women still make up a worrying low proportion of the engineering workforce, at six per cent, and I am determined to help break down the stereotypes that are putting women off joining this vibrant and exciting profession.

‘My challenge to every engineer is to ask themselves what they have done today to improve society and then to tell someone about it. We need to be proud of our engineering achievements.’

Group Captain Hunt has succeeded Patrick Kniveton, head of engineering improvement at Rolls-Royce Marine Power, who became President in 2013.

Readers' comments (5)

  • Whilst I am all for promoting engineering equality, I don't see these results as being particularly negative. If I read it correctly, 27% of surveyed people do relate the term 'engineer' to women compared to an actual female population of only 6%, and the majority don't believe that women are deterred from engineering (although I'd prefer a less ambiguous set of statistics to base an argument on).

    Has anyone surveyed JUST women and asked, any real or apparent deterrent aside, whether they want to go into engineering (or better yet what proportion wanted to but were put off for any reason)?

    Incidentally, I wonder how it compares to the percentage of men who work as Infant School teachers (as one example of many) and whether, as long as the engineering opportunities exist for all equally, we are creating an issue where one really doesn't exist?

    I'm more bothered about the term 'engineer' being applied to anyone who wields a screwdriver, fixes pipes or other mildly technical (sometimes not even that) work, but that's another argument entirely, although perhaps it is this widely used definition rather than true engineering that could be putting people off.

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  • Maybe this survey does present us with a truth that we should recognise and discuss- That engineering is a ‘Masculine’ profession. Engineering has traditionally – and let’s face it people do look back to the period up until the 70s when identifiable newsworthy Engineered products such as Concorde, the QE2, Apollo were (apart from times of war) projects mainly led by males, with a few notable exceptions. (The poll I belief reflects that understanding, by the public).

    But more importantly these products were associated with attributes that were seen as having masculine attributes including; ‘ ambition, competition, reason’. At the same time feminine attributes such as emotion, empathy, communication ‘skills’ were seen as belonging ‘in the home’ (a hang over from the Victorian era).

    With the decline and erosion of traditional differential hierarchies, starting in the 60s, feminine traits have spread through society, including business- you could argue that society has been ‘feminised’. For many businesses this may have had positive benefits and may have helped even create new ‘creative’ industries and has allowed many women to choose to move into careers in those areas. For Engineering, as was alluded to recently in these opinion pages, engineering with environmental issues is possibly one area that is argued that women will ‘fit’ or be attracted to. Empathy with the planet I guess?

    So can we have a non emotional, non empathetic, but reasoned discussion (involving women as well as men) as to whether ‘Engineering’ is essentially a ‘masculine’ profession and industrial field? My starter is that it is and should remain so, sticking to- ‘ ambition, competition, reason’ as guiding principles and that if we are clear about this then ambitious, competitive and ‘reasoned’ women will join us (and hopefully improve our communication skills at the same time). I hope that by making ‘Reason’ a part of this readers can assume that I am not defending the bullying or coercive aspects associated with traditional ‘masculinity’, but trying to reconsider whether we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater?

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  • This does beg the question of whether ambition, competition and reason should be considered as essentially masculine.

  • @editor - that is my point. I'm taking my definition as the 'traditional' one (pres say 1962) and am happy to debate that the definition may or may not be capable of changing . There are always individuals who are exceptions, but ambition and competiveness do fit in to the traditional definition. Even QE1 (the woman not the ship) and Boudicia would be seen as having masculine traits but that definition.

    My main point for discussion is I guess is Engineering still ambitious, competitive and Reasoned as the past and ironically could losing those traits be one reason why women stay away from the profession. Lets face it most discussions on the subejct of women/engineering have covered the 'working environment', male attitudes etc stuff to death and we have made little real progress on the subject (IMHO).

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  • In the industry we continue to loop around these discussion points in our failing to draw upon talented women that could thrive in the engineering environment. I do agree with the thread on ambitious, competitive and reasoned qualities being predominant, however I would disagree on these traits being described as masculine. My reasoning being my youngest daughter is very bright, mathematically minded, competitive and ambitious. Whilst I would like to steer her toward engineering I also recognise she may be better rewarded and compensated in other professional areas. And that is a shame!

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  • My observation of women that do come into engineering is that they tend to disappear after a few years. Many leave to start families and don't return. Others leave for other sectors. I think the environment is supportive of women although sometimes long hours can become an issue. A lack of reward in the sector will also get in the way of recruiting and retaining talented people.

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