Comment: Welcome to women in engineering week

Throughout this week - to tie in with International Women in Engineering Day -  The Engineer is focusing on industry’s ongoing efforts to close the gender gap and celebrating the role played by female engineers.

Along with the need to inspire more young people to consider a career in engineering, attracting more women into the profession remains one of industry’s most enduring and intractable skills challenges.

The equation is a simple one: in the face of a widening skills gap, half of the population are still woefully underrepresented in the UK’s engineering workforce.

Shifting the dial on this will be vital to delivering the volume and diversity of skilled individuals who will be key to driving innovation and growth across our industrial economy.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been progress. Indeed, the numbers are making steady, albeit slow, movement in the right direction. Today, women account for 16.5 per cent of UK engineers (up from around 10 per cent just over a decade ago) and there are now perhaps more inspiring female engineering role models than ever before:  from renowned business leaders to impressive young innovators at the forefront of some of the most exciting areas of technology. 

In parallel with this, there also seems to be a more nuanced understanding of the challenge, and a growing awareness of some of the practical measures that employers can take to address the gender gap, whether it's introducing unconscious bias training for hiring managers, or enabling flexible working arrangements that are more compatible with a family life.

But despite the progress, there’s still much to do: from removing some of the bottlenecks preventing or deterring women from re-entering the workplace after maternity leave to understanding and addressing some of the societal issues that see girls - who massively outperform boys in STEM subjects at GCSE level - move away from physical sciences as they go into A-levels.

There are many practical measures and interventions that can help shift the dial, but alongside this it’s vital that we continue to hammer away at the stereotypes, to celebrate the achievements of women engineers and remind women and girls of the incredible opportunities available to them, which is why events like this month’s International Women in Engineering Day (23rd June) are so important.

Throughout this week, we’ll be playing our own small part in this important exercise by spotlighting some of the initiatives and efforts that are helping to shift the dial and profiling female engineers from across industry. Do also check out our latest issue, in which we feature some of the incredible women who have transformed (or are transforming) our world: from the trailblazing engineering innovators of the past who have helped shape the present, to the inspiring female innovators of the present day who are helping shape the future.