New figures suggesting that the number of women pursuing a career in engineering is in decline make worrying reading for the UK’s technology sector.
According to the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) annual workforce survey, despite a raft of initiatives designed to engage women (including the IET’s own young woman engineer of the year competition), progress in addressing industry’s gender imbalance appears to have stalled. Not only does the UK have the lowest proportion of female engineering professionals in the EU (just 8.7 per cent) but the IET points to decline in the number of female engineering technicians from five percent to three per cent since 2008.
Whatever the reasons for this, it certainly has little to do with any gender-based predisposition. In the world’s industrial superpower China, more than a third of the engineers are female, while here in the UK female students regularly outperform their male peers in STEM subjects at GCSE.
And yet in the UK, post GCSE, the gender imbalance starts to kick in. At A-Level STEM subjects are dominated by males: according to the latest figures from Engineering UK Just 22 percent of last year’s A -level physics students were female. In Higher education the gap widens further, with women making up just 12 per cent of those enrolling on engineering courses. While away from academia just four per cent of the UK engineering apprenticeships are female.
The reasons for this are complicated. It certainly seems that the pattern is set early and that the perception and engagement issues that industry continues to struggle with are at their most pronounced when it comes to young women. But it would also be naïve to suggest that misconceptions are the only problems and industry itself is completely free of sexism.
While the reasons for industry’s gender gap may be hard to fathom, one thing is certain: as the skills gap begins to bite, it’s vital that the UK capitalises on the skills of all of its available talent.
Failure to promote careers in engineering for women will mean that we will continue to miss out on 50 per cent of the available talent, an oversight which could have serious repercussions for society and the future strength of the economy.
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