Industry’s gender divide takes centre stage

The Engineer

The torrent of press releases we’ve received in recent days detailing the achievements of some of the UK’s top female engineers can only mean one thing: National Women in Engineering day is almost upon us.

Project Manager Nisrine Chartouny with some of the women constructing the new Crossrail Farringdon Station
Project Manager Nisrine Chartouny with some of the women constructing the new Crossrail Farringdon Station

It’s an often-repeated truism that the proportion of women working in engineering in the UK is still pitifully low. With females making up just six per cent of the engineering workforce the UK lags behind many other countries in the world. In China, for instance, 40 per cent of the country’s engineers are women.

As The Engineer has long argued, attracting more women into industry is vital if the UK is to meet its anticipated demand for engineers over the years ahead and it’s an argument which – on paper at least – many of our top engineering employers are heeding.

And yet despite concerted efforts by industry, government and excellent organisations like the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) – the brains behind National Women in Engineering Day – signs that industry’s gender gap is beginning to close are difficult to detect.

The Engineer’s 2015 salary survey – which will be published in full next week – bears this out, with women making up just 5.5% of our respondents.

Our survey illustrates a number of worrying trends: not least that women engineers earn on average £10k less per year than their male colleagues, and that the number of women in engineering drops dramatically in the 50 plus age group – a sign perhaps that much more needs to be done to ensure that women enjoy the same opportunities for career progression as men.

But there some glimmers of hope. The civil and structural sectors perform well, and boast double the proportion of female engineers (we look at some of the reasons for this in our latest careers feature). And there at least appears to be a growing consensus that industry needs to address the gender divide, with more than a quarter of respondents identifying it as a priority issue.

One suspects  – based on anecdotal evidence- that this figure would have been much lower several year’s ago, and its thanks in small part to initiatives like this week’s celebrations that the issue’s being given the attention it so desperately requires.

Set up by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) National Women in Engineering day 2015 which is held tomorrow (Tuesday23rd June) will see employers throughout industry celebrate the contribution of their female engineers.