INWED 2023 Profile: Breaking down barriers and forging paths

An anonymous female manufacturing engineer working within the FMCG sector discusses her own experiences, the barriers she’s come up against and how these can be broken down. She also considers the tangible actions employers can take to remove elements of discrimination and 'old boys club' mentalities.


The field of engineering has long been dominated by men, and good efforts are being made to increase diversity and inclusivity within the industry. However, in my experience, women still face significant barriers and challenges, including discrimination, bias, and a lack of mentorship and sponsorship. Engineering is the most male-dominated field in STEM with women making up 13 per cent of the engineering workforce in the US, and only about 16.5 per cent in the UK.

Encouraging young girls to pursue engineering careers:

The lack of encouragement for young girls to pursue careers in engineering is a significant barrier. I attended an all-girls school where fields like engineering were hardly referenced, let alone focused on. I was really good at Maths and Science, but despite these skills, I was encouraged to study Photography, even though I was never creative in that way.

It is crucial to provide equal exposure and encouragement for girls within STEM fields. Schools should offer comprehensive career guidance that includes engineering as a practical option for girls. Highlighting more female role models in STEM fields and their achievements will help inspire young girls to pursue engineering. Young girls need to see examples of outstanding female engineers and be empowered to follow in their footsteps.

I think many people, especially young girls, have a misconception of what engineering is, too. They might think of it as a dirty, very physical job when in fact, there are hundreds of different engineering roles within companies. If the full scope of the engineering sector was highlighted and communicated within schools, I believe many more young girls would be more open to considering it as a career.

Combatting sexism and the ‘old boys club’ mentality:

Research suggests that almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of female engineers have experienced some form of discrimination, harassment, or victimization at work.

Sexism and the ‘old boys club’ mentality persist in the engineering field, creating a challenging environment for women. I see and experience this almost every day. I don’t even know how many times I’ve heard phrases like ‘I won’t say because there’s a lady present,’ or have been told that I only got the job because I’m a woman. Then there are smaller things that have a big impact too, like the only safety boots available in my size having pink laces and high-vis vests coming down to my knees. These are unfortunate reminders that sexism no matter how subtle is alive and well in the engineering field. Women still aren’t being catered to the same way as men when it comes down to even basic equipment requirements.

It’s not just ‘on the job’ sexism too it’s a wider cultural issue. A 2017 survey found that less than 15 per cent of female manufacturers surveyed believed their industry is very accepting of family or personal commitments and allows them to meet these commitments without impairing their career.  

The industry is certainly not as ‘female friendly’ as it could be, there is a long way to go. This not only impacts the number of women entering the industry, but the retention of this talent too. I believe this needs to be remedied from the top down, and a higher number of females in senior leadership roles will only accelerate this progress.

Breaking down gender stereotypes and bias

Gender stereotypes and biases contribute to the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions within the engineering industry.

I believe that it is essential to challenge and change these stereotypes by promoting gender equality in education, dismantling gender-based expectations, and providing equal opportunities for girls and women to develop and hone their leadership and STEM skills. This can be done through mentoring programs and sponsorship initiatives that can help women advance in their engineering careers.

Increasing diversity and inclusivity in the engineering field requires tangible actions from both employers and individuals. Proactive recruitment for female engineers and increased visibility have been proven to increase female applicants to STEM roles, but the issue doesn’t end with recruitment. We need to engage and empower young women when they are in a business, give them a support network, teach them other women are allies and not the competition and take an integrated approach to career development.

Creating an inclusive and diverse engineering industry will not only provide equal opportunities for women but also foster innovation and drive positive change within the field as a whole. I aim to help drive that positive change.