Wednesday, 17 September 2014
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This chart says everything about "women in engineering" recruitment programmes

Just six per cent of the engineering workforce are women, according to the IET’s latest annual skills survey.

Despite numerous attempts by industry bodies and major companies to address the gender gap over the years, the proportion of women in the profession remains one of the lowest in Europe.

In the last five years, when these efforts have come into particular focus as the industry moves to deal with a perceived skills shortage, the figure reported by the IET’s survey for professional engineers, technicians and apprentices has barely changed.

Things are even worse when looking just at engineering technicians, only per three cent of whom are women.

women in engineering

Source: IET

Some companies have managed to increase their intake of women to as much as 50 per cent, so perhaps as more businesses follow their lead and retiring engineers are replaced the numbers will start to look better.

But in those firms who can attract women, it hasn’t necessarily made an impact. As Keith Cochrane, CEO of Scottish engineering firm Weir Group, told the BBC last week, around 25 per cent of the company’s engineering recruits are women but for the whole organisation the figure is the same as the national total of six per cent.

women in engineering

Source: IET

This also raises the question of whether firms that can persuade women to join up are doing enough to keep them. Just 18 per cent of firms surveyed had a positive attitude towards flexible working, 16 per cent offered mentoring, nine per cent offered structured career paths with breaks and only eight per cent had an equal opportunities policy.

Worse, 23 per cent of companies said they were doing nothing to improve the diversity of their workforce. A further 20 per cent said they just hired the best candidate.

The IET’s Stephanie Fernandes, who authored the skills report, said that if companies wanted to address any skills shortage it wasn’t enough to hire the best person who happened to apply. ’You’ve got to seek them out because they might not come knocking on your door,’ she told The Engineer.

’Employers have a responsibility to get the best out of their employees. If they’re female there are probably a different set of actions to get the best from them …You have to adapt to get best out of different cohorts of employees.’

Update: The above graph now includes data for the period 2007-2009 as well as 2010-2014.


Readers' comments (11)

  • No amount of shows and special events are going to make a significant difference.

    The problem lies in our national culture's appreciation of engineering and in what we value both in term of gender roles and careers.

    Look at how little girls are raised: lots of pink fluffythings; a continual drip feeding of fame and celebrity and heavy careers guidance for all towards services and the caring professions. A couple of events in a child's lifetime are not going to compensate for the overwhelming motivational force of our culture.

    On a different note, why should women enjoy special arrangements for flexible working and mentoring above and beyond men? Should not both be offered the same opportunities? If we are to campaign for equal pay for equal work then we ought to campaign for equal opportunities at work for all, should we not?

    As someone who travels to the continent fequently the difference in cultures between the UK and Germany and Poland is quite stark. With a heavy heart, I report that I and a number of my friends have noted amongst many of our youngsters, in contrast to their German and Polish counterparts, a perspective of superficiality and triviality.

    Let me give you a small anecdote. My Polish wife studied Tourism at Uni, not a good career choice. But everyone of her female peers bar one studied a STEM subject: electrical engineering, computer science, biology, medicine, economics etc. Contrast this with my sister who also studied Tourism, not a good career choice. But NONE of her friends studied a STEM subject and of my female friends from outside work only ONE studied a STEM subject.

    The engineering institutions are completely missing the trick. If they want to influence culture they must do so from the top down. We don't have the numbers, the will or the finance to change the grass roots but we do have a moral authority that can be brought to bear on government, employers bodies and other institutions. The institutions need to bring this authority to bear on decision making in Whitehall, lobby the MPs and provide guidance on careers and education to the state. In short they need to be IN government and not quiet observers of it.

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  • The reason flexible working is relevant here is because women are more likely to request it because they are more likely to be the primary childcare givers - partly thanks to that same gender role culture. That's not to say men shouldn't be offered it too.

    Do you think a top-down approach would work without grassroots support too?

  • Yes a top down solution would work.

    Its the basic political theory of the left. Salami slice every innovation. Large changes will never be accepted in bulk through natural inertia but many small steps will.

    At the end of the day, what is grass roots effort, what does it achieve bang for buck? So far, very little. At the end of the day its just words and games. It may inspire a few, briefly. It may change the minds of one or two, but for the majority it will be just one more fad or initiative.

    If we want change then we need to get our hands in the national curriculum. We need to contextualise STEM teaching with Engineering topics. We need advisors in the Dept. of Education. We need mandatory consultation with Engineering Advocates for trainee teachers during Teacher Training College and nationally approved guidance and training events for careers advisors. We need a voice equivalent to the General Medical Council. We need actual change on a protected status like doctors or lawyers not more decades of waffle from the presidents of the various institutions. We need to be the interface between employers' federations, the government and universities. And we can only achieve all this by becoming indespendible to the various parties, bringing them together and speaking with authority.

    This won't be done by a few of us on the ground but by the institutions getting together, developing a clear political vision and pursuing it. At the moment I'd suggest the general feeling is that the instututions are somewhat parasitic and offer poor value for money but they ought to be the forums and political bodies by which we can drive change.

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  • Oh my goodness gracious me - NATH - You have absolutely 'nailed it' in your most recent postings on this subject. I have watched my professional salary and my standing in the community go 'down the pan' thanks to complacency and ignorance within 'The establishment' since I graduated and became a Chartered Engineer back in 1979 - when as I recall vividly - after a hard fought campaign for promotion and an appropriate salary I actually 'drew alongside' what the MPs were being paid in 1979 - but where are we today - answer: well down the league table of middle earners. If my daughter came to me and said Dad, I am engaged to be married to a Tube Train Driver (on circa £56k p.a. for a 35 hour week) I would be delighted, but a Chartered Engineer (on typically circa £35k to £45k for a 45 hour week and no paid overtime) I would be horrified - how times have changed!

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  • Maybe engineers need a better union!

  • Apart from concerns about ANY interest group who wants to ‘get our hands in the national curriculum’ to pursue change, Nath makes, as is often the case in these pages some interesting points ; ‘developing a clear political vision’, ‘The problem lies in our national culture' etc. mixed in with hackneyed old arguments about protected status, pay etc. , which the article points out (at least I would contend) have had little impact on the gender split within engineering.

    I could write pages about this subject – but a point that needs to be considered, when considering women and young people in the UK in the C21, is that culture and cultural history matters to aid understand of where we are and how we got here and to help guide how we are to get to where we want to go (my assumption more ‘engineering’ with more young people and more women paying an active part in order to create an expanded economy?). I would contend that these ‘soft’ cultural matters are deemed irrelevant to more pragmatic minded engineers, who may look for more pragmatic ‘initiatives’ of the kind that the article has out lined as having failed? Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t think we can find an ‘engineering/ed’ solution to these problems.

    Just taking the issue of comparisons with other countries mixed in with the effect of the counter cultural ‘ revolution’ of the 60s and 70s which arguably has had a far greater impact within the UK on young people’s aspirations – for instance less desire to be a ‘cog in the (hierarchical) machine’ than their parents (no matter how good the pay) – leading to people wanting to take up careers in ‘Creative industries’ from ‘Design’ to Marketing and Software at the economically (and intellectually) successful end – to yes tourism and media studies at lower end. Let’s not forget the caring professions (NHS specific to the UK as part of the wider welfare system here) as well as environmental issues all of which are aspirational professions which ‘compete’ with the ‘less caring’ polluting industrial heritage of the UK. JLR and Dyson can just about fit into being considered ‘sexy’ – but Wier (pumps) even if they make wind turbines. Much of UK engineering consists of making less sexy components.

    We need a serious understanding of how ‘engineering’ and manufacturing has changed with in this social context to get an idea of the hows and whys of young people.

    This is a big subject- and a comment page is not an easy forum to develop and debate these themes? Would it be an idea for The Engineer to organise a 1 day conference to bash this discussion out a bit, involving young people in the debate?

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  • Guys, please have a look at www.designengineerconstruct.com. As a woman, I was very frustrated that kids knew so little about the construction industry from a professional stance. So I 'got my hands on the national curriculum' but created something that teachers would not be terrified of. After all, my industry (that is AEC - architecture, engineering and construction in the built environment) is not exactly in their comfort zone! So - creat a learning programme where kids, and their teachers, are recognised for their ability to apply STEM subjects and get creative, and top this up with some pretty cool challenges which are cross gender and cross curricular. It's changing hearts and minds in the classroom for a young age, and parents are loving it. One man can make a difference. Join us?

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  • I was pleased to see someone from the construction industry speaking up. I seem to remember that someone pointed out that critical industries the UK had let slip included the design of construction/manufacturing machines, as well as toy design. Another article (in the Engineer) pointed out how well Paxton was appreciated in China - but my architectural colleagues said "Who?".
    I have not asked one of my relatives, who despite peer comments, is an engineer what inspired her to be one. But perhaps inspiring engineers by appreciating a wealth and diversity of creativity and ingenuity that scientists and engineers employ; too often people seem to point to only a handful of people of limited approaches.
    In materials and design the book, by Gordon, "new science of strong materials" is, I would say, such a book. It is suitable at ALL levels and revels, and appreciates, a catholic range of science and engineering.
    If students had access to such inspiration then I would think that it would encourage all (and I would expect that this would increase the proportion of girls doing scientific and mathematics subsjects, as seems common to our continental cousins.
    As regards more flexible ways of working. I agree - both part time and, with the modern technology, inclusivity of remote working. These are not promoted or well supported by employers; like much innovation there is always a reason why not - rather than how can we do it and improve it.
    I have covered a range of aspects - but having a belief in science and innovation I consider that all barriers should be addressed.

    Perhaps a running blog and information source in "the Engineer"?
    Thus more of a historical approach to creative ingenuity, than the anonymous lady, but I would hope complementary.

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  • Did I not read in one blog that there are not a lot of male midwives (perhaps the title of that career is a give-away in itself).

    The concept of encouraging an interest in Engineering via consideration of everyday objects is great: fellow bloggers may recall my concept of the remedial teaching of mathematics to Engineering students via every-day objects and situations. maths in the kitchen, driving, in sport, in the shower, even in the bedroom.(*) All places and events well known to youngsters. (*)Maybe not there?

    Now that we (and our children and grandchildren) as a consumer society are exposed to things mechanical and electronic and structural from dawn to dusk and cradle to grave...it should be easy. I did once suggest to Blue Peter/BBC [come-on. -double-sided sticky-tape, et al]that a simple description of an equation in the credits to a programme -reminding children about the mathematics of what they had seen in the previous 20 minutes might do more to encourage an understanding of the importance of that topic in children.
    The BBC was not amused! What a wasted opportunity, but of course I forgot, most BBC staff studied really important topics such as meja, englush, litrutire, spelun, grimmer, hostiry and left Engineering to the proles.

    I have to admit that my own study of the various 'heat' cycles at Uni failed to point out that at least two of the items being described were to be found in my mother's kitchen.

    Best wishes
    Mike B

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  • You can examime pre-conditioning and cultural differences all you want, but the main reasons women stay out of Engineering can be summed-up as follows:-1. VERY LOW REWARD LEVELS, both pay and satisfaction.
    2. The work...used to be oily and dirty which puts women off, now it's all paperwork and Spec-writing which puts womwen off. 3. The name "Engineer". It's time it was consigned to the dustbin with it's down-market associations. The bloke who fixes your kettle is labeled an engineer in the eyes of the Public, there's no hope of changing this attitude and the subsistance-level salary that accompanies it.... how about "technologist" or just "Designer" ?....that would be a start, no negative bagage there. Better pay, status and conditions will surely follow.

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  • Back in the mid 1960s, the term Professional Engineer was being used by the big employers wishing to capture the interest of bright young school leavers with aspirations to go to University and become professionally qualified - even then the title Engineer was misunderstood and given to any body who did anything remotely 'technical' such as Technicians or Electricians who had straight forward or repetitive jobs that required them to follow a fixed set of rules or guidelines but which called for no 'ingenuity' whatsoever. Sadly neither my professional body The Institution of Electrical Engineers, now renamed The Institution of Engineering and Technology, nor Council of Engineering Institutions, nor the Educational System, nor the Press nor the Government have done anything in the intervening 50 years to enhance or even maintain the 60s 'status quo' nor to enhance and defend the standing of the engineering profession and have in fact watched as our rewards and career structure steadily declined such that it is now only suitable for those with an almost vocational passion for the subject or for those with private means, or the fortunate few who manage to land a job with an Oil Company, an American Defence Company, Rolls Royce Aero Engineering or who can find a niche in Banking or Marine/Aero Insurance etc, who can expect to make a decent living as a Professional Engineer. I have now resorted to building and testing inexpensive consumer products that I have invented or developed - privately funded, to satisfy my passion.

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  • Nath "Yes a top down solution would work.
    Its the basic political theory of the left."

    Well, I read the rest, bust was still laughing at your opening gambit. The Left has failed this country and any form of productive industry every time it had the chance. The so called end of UK manufacturing happened well before the Thatcher government- it happened with nationalisation, when it was no longer necessary for those industries to produce anything.

    A Labour education secretary said we only need vocational GCSEs to do our jobs.

    Only a functionally based approach will work. That requires engagement with and understanding of the capitalist system and "The Left" are incapable of understanding this.

    A moderately successful Engineer's salary remained comparable to an MP's salary as it has done all my working life. Left wing inspired spite and envy won't change things.

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