Friday, 01 August 2014
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Women engineers call for better careers advice

Better careers advice is needed to attract more women into engineering, according to a new survey published just as current provision came under fire from Ofsted.

Over 70 per cent of female engineers questioned for the report from engineering consultancy Atkins said better careers information in schools would help the profession’s gender imbalance.

But education watchdog Ofsted has said the government’s new arrangements, under which schools are responsible for providing careers advice but don’t have dedicated funding to do so, are not working well enough and that there was a lack of employer engagement in the process.

The report, Britain’s got female engineering talent, found that 39 per cent of the 300 women engineers surveyed were inspired by a family member to join the profession and 91 per cent had an inspirational teacher, while only 15 per cent were influenced by a careers adviser.

But Martin Grant, CEO of Atkins’ energy business, said this showed how important good careers advice was for those students who didn’t have a parent or teacher to inspire them to consider engineering.

‘For the women who didn’t have that sort of privilege you have to think what else can we do other than good careers advice [from family members or teachers],’ he told The Engineer.

‘When you’ve got a career like engineering that is generally not well understood, that lack of high-quality careers advice really starts to have a big influence.’

However, he added that industry shouldn’t just rely on government to spend more money on the careers service. ‘I think the profession has to own this problem. We have to get out into the schools and do that communication.’

The survey was published yesterday at the same time as Ofsted released its report on careers advice, which found three quarters of schools were not fulfilling their duty to provide an effective and impartial careers service.

But the watchdog also said there was a lack of employer engagement in schools and that the government guidance on careers advice was not explicit.

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Atkins’ survey, carried out in partnership with BP, Rolls-Royce and the Royal Academy of Engineering, also found that 98 per cent respondents thought the profession was a rewarding one for women.

Only 13 per cent thought being a woman was a hindrance in applying for engineering jobs – 17 per cent said it actually helped – but 75 per cent thought engineering was still viewed as a male career.

Alongside support for better careers advice, around 88 per cent of respondents thought a greater awareness of what engineers do was needed, while 64 per cent believed work experience placements alongside women engineers would help encourage more girls to take up engineering.

Almost all the women surveyed said they had a good work-life balance and 79 per cent thought a supporting working environment and co-workers had helped achieve this.

The engineer and TV presenter Dr Shini Somara, who helped launch the report, said, ‘The results of this survey give us perfect material to use in the drive to encourage more girls, young women and even boys to choose STEM subjects, because they can see how satisfied it makes people.

‘Not only does engineering offer a huge variety of career choices, but these jobs are rewarding and fulfilling – and they offer flexibility and a work/life balance – which can’t be said of many well-paid careers.

‘The task now is for industry and education to work together to sell these messages to the next generation of young engineers.’


Readers' comments (16)

  • I have no experience of either careers advice or being a woman but it seems logical that the stereotype is the single greatest reason for our lack of female engineers.

    Of course there are some inequalities within the workplace but more than anything our decisions depend on others' expectations. If you family, your peers, your teachers & advisers simply assume you'd never be interested in engineering how can anybody expect you to develop an interest in the first place?

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  • Addressing the image problem will go a long way to getting more women and professionals into engineering. Less oily rags and more mathematics and design.

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  • Difficulty will continue to be experienced recruiting women or any high quality people into engineering so long as anyone whose job entails using a screwdriver or spanner is described as an'engineer'

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  • Industry and education do need to work together and the EDT programmes all involve pupils working with companies. Check us out www.etrust.org.uk

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  • We need to face the facts: Engineering is a hard subject to study at university and the financial rewards are not good. The rewards in medicine, law and accountancy are much better and these subjects have no trouble attracting females and males.

    Women should not be pressured into signing up for enginering just to satisfy the pollitically correct idiots that worry about gender balance. Engineering is already open and accessible to both men and women.

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  • Absolutely right, that careers advice needs to be very much better - for all and to overcome stereotypes of engineering being just about oily rags and spanners.

    But the pipeline of women in engineering is hugely leaky throughout - where fewer women students get fewer opportunities for relevant work experience, lower likelihood of being recruited by eng companies, less likely to be able to return after a short break, and more likely to leave the profession. Join the Women's Engineering Society www.wes.org.uk which s working to address all these issues AND has lovely resources to support careers advice.

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  • Having worked with several women within engineering I have many different opinions about this. Some of which I would be praised for and if I voiced others I would need asbestos trousers!

    To be honest, Im getting sick of hearing about it and am even more sick of the fact universities are 'praising up' the female engineering students. Having spoken to some graduates recently their feedback of modern university life was pretty amazing. 3 different universities had voted a female student 'engineering student of the year' and the response from other students was that there where far more deserving candidates. Quite what to draw from this I dont know.

    If females want to be in engineering then they want to be in engineering, if they dont, they dont. What concernes me is that we may be 'forced' to employ inferior engineers to meet the demands of 'equality'.

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  • Some great comments about perception change and the importance of showing the diversity of roles and opportunities within engineering.

    For exactly these reasons FISITA (International Federation of Automotive Engineering Societies) created www.yourfutureinautomotive.com to offer young people, engineering students and recent graduates education advice, careers guidance and much more, including interviews with engineers working within the automotive industry at various levels and in different disciplines (as well as some vital HR insights!).

    We want it to be a positive, useful resource for STEM enthusiasts and young engineers male AND female, and hope to inspire more girls and young women to pursue a career in engineering and a career in automotive by showing positive role models and creating informative content. Do share!

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  • Being a female and a Chemical Engineer working in a design consultancy in UK, I would say I have seen many impressive engineers and they aren't afraid of getting their hand dirty and are intelligent enough to solve high level engineering problems by their maths/engineering skills. Sorry, I don't understand why even we (as a society) need to think on gender in engineering? I would say engineering is just a matter of interest irrespective of gender.

    When I read such articles, I feel like it's an insult to female engineers.

    I am in this profession. Not only it's rewarding, but this is what I always wanted to do and it's so interesting and fulfilling...

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  • and I would suggest to teach basic math for the journalists

    "The report, Britain’s got female engineering talent, found that 39 per cent of the 300 women engineers surveyed were inspired by a family member to join the profession and 91 per cent had an inspirational teacher, while only 15 per cent were influenced by a careers adviser.

    38%+91%+15% is 145

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  • You're assuming that all the categories were exclusive. How about if some of the respondents had an inspirational teacher and were influenced by a family member?

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