Pandemic widens engineering gender gap amongst young people

New research from EngineeringUK suggests that for young people in particular, the Covid-19 pandemic is deepening gender differences in career aspirations in engineering or technology.  

As part of the survey, Young people and Covid-19: How the pandemic has affected careers experiences and aspirations , just over 1,100 young people aged 11 to 19 were asked about their attitudes and the degree to which their educational and career aspirations have been affected by the pandemic. While, positively for the sector, a large majority of young people believe engineering had an important role to play in fighting elements of the pandemic, the gender gap when it comes to considering an engineering or technology career is still very much prevalent.

gender gap
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When asked whether they would be likely to consider engineering as a career, 44% of boys/young men answered yes as opposed to just 24% of girls/young women and that gap is even wider when it comes to technology with 65% of boys/young men vs 37% of girls/young women saying they would be likely to consider a career in the sector.

Results suggest that the pandemic is deepening these already existing gender differences in career aspirations, with a higher proportion of girls/young women than boys/young men saying the pandemic has made them more likely to work in healthcare (29% v 18%). In contrast, a higher proportion of boys/young men than girls/young women said the pandemic has made them more likely to work in engineering (17% v 12%) or technology (23% v 18%).

Results also reveal that 41% of girls/young women compared with just 30% of boys/young men said that the pandemic has made ‘having a positive impact on society’ more important to them when deciding on a career.

The survey also looked at whether young people searched out information online, spoke to their parents or took part in any careers activity during lockdown, with the results showing a gender disparity with girls/young women more likely to have used the time to research their futures. 60% of girls/young women, compared to 49% of boys/young men had taken part in a careers activity during lockdown. 44% of girls/young women had discussed career options with their parents, compared with 30% of boys/young men and 27% of girls/young women compared to just 19% of boys had searched for careers information online.

Commenting on the findings Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive of EngineeringUK said: "This survey, as well as our recent Educational pathways into engineering report, shows that now more than ever we need to work together to encourage young people from groups underrepresented in engineering and technology to progress into the sector. The survey suggests that, unless we take action, gender disparity will increase.”

Dr Leevers has called on government and industry to help ensure that STEM outreach is targeted to the schools and students that need it most including those that are underrepresented in the STEM and engineering workforce .

"We ask that organisations that have been resilient to the impact of the pandemic go above and beyond, supporting young people who may join their future workforce and that of the wider system – from their supply chain to the wider economy," she said. "I also encourage the government to be bold, ambitious and experimental in its support for the next generation and to treat diversity as a priority not as a ‘nice to have’."