Comment: Establishing the next wave of women in engineering

Alexia Dieumegard, Site Manager, Legendre UK, looks at how can we challenge stereotypes around engineering careers, better represent women in the industry, and utilise the untapped workforce to help fill the current STEM skills shortage.

The private engineering sector has a responsibility to make workplaces more welcoming and representative
The private engineering sector has a responsibility to make workplaces more welcoming and representative - Legendre UK

The reality is that women only make up 16.5 per cent of the engineering workforce in the UK according to Engineering UK, and not enough is being done to address this. International Women in Engineering Day is coming up on 23 June and encourages the industry to take a step back, highlighting the vital action necessary to better equip women to break into the sector.

Aside from the obvious benefits of a more diverse workforce, increasing the number of women in engineering is vital for closing the skills gap. A decline in apprenticeships, an ageing workforce, and continued misconceptions of what an engineering career is, have culminated in a growing skills shortage in the UK’s engineering industry. Alongside this, a huge 25 per cent of all job listings are for engineering roles, and studies show that vacancies within the sector will grow faster than any other industry between now and 2030. Enhancing diversity in the STEM workforce by increasing the number of women taking up these roles could have a significant impact in reducing this labour shortage.  

The knock-on effect…

Despite an improvement in the industry’s collective mindset, it remains a difficult workplace to enter as women continue to ‘stand out’ in the sector. The lack of female role models in engineering means younger generations can’t visualise themselves in these careers, making it easier for them to disregard viable opportunities.

Insufficient representation in the engineering workplace has knock on effects for the small percentage of women in the current workforce. It creates a lack of mentors to share experiences with, which can leave women feeling professionally isolated and in worst case scenarios result in an inability to retain women in STEM roles. By establishing more mentoring opportunities, support networks and role models, women can connect with other industry professionals and share challenges and advice, helping them to thrive in these workplaces.

… and how we can close the gap  

Ahead of the upcoming general election, we remain hopeful for much needed change. We’ve seen released manifestos place emphasis on education, promising educational and apprenticeships reform, and providing greater access to training for the current workforce. A new government needs to adopt a more strategic approach to growing and diversifying the engineering workforce, including prioritising STEM education for young people, to strengthen the country’s expanding engineering and technology sector.

By focusing on educational pathways and teacher recruitment, training and retention, we can help usher in the next wave of students. Ensuring women are recruited into engineering teaching roles will create relatable role models for the next generation.

The private engineering sector also has a responsibility to make workplaces more welcoming and representative by introducing its own initiatives to recruit and support a workforce of women. During Women in Construction Week, our team at Legendre UK shared communications around engineering sector roles across our social media channels, with an aim of increasing visibility across the industry.  

This action could also manifest by utilising women in the team at university career fairs, engineering exhibitions and school visits. By representing women in educational spaces companies can help break down the engineer stereotype, equipping women with the knowledge and confidence to view this as a viable pathway.

The power of a diverse workforce

It's crucial that companies introduce mentoring networks to ensure employees feel supported and heard in the workplace. We currently have an ongoing programme of sessions which enable junior employees to meet with more experienced women in the company, to gain advice and support.

A diverse workforce will not only make engineering workspaces fairer and more representative for all but will have a positive impact on the industry’s output. Data shows that a diverse workforce has many benefits including encouraging varied perspectives, inspiring creativity, improving team relationships and fostering innovation.

We should look to the growing engineering skills shortage as an opportunity to encourage diversity and ensure that innovation continues to thrive within this vital sector. The public and private sectors must band together to harness this untapped demographic, creating and promoting educational pathways to engineering, as well as raising the visibility of women in the current sector.

Alexia Dieumegard, Site Manager, Legendre UK