Why does the UK still have so few female engineers?

Editor

With the well publicised engineering gender gap showing few signs of closing, efforts must now be focused on ensuring that industry hangs onto its most talented women.

The arguments for attracting more women to pursue a career in engineering are well known and well understood. As The Engineer, along with many others, has consistently pointed out, women are still woefully under-represented in our industry and tapping into the talent of just half of the UK’s population is no way to address a skills shortage.

And yet, despite a seemingly endless parade of industry-wide campaigns and initiatives, and indeed tentative evidence that more women are entering the profession, the actual number of female UK engineers has barely changed over the past decade. As our analysis of the IET’s most recent skills survey revealed the proportion of women in the profession – lower than almost anywhere else in Europe – has hovered around the six per cent mark for the past five years.

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There are a number of conclusions that could be drawn from this. Perhaps the number of women entering the profession is outweighed by those that are retiring, and we will soon reach a tipping point that will push this six percent figure into more acceptable territory. Or perhaps the various efforts to inspire women to pursue a career in industry are fundamentally flawed. Unenlightened observers might even point to the apparent lack of success of such initiatives as evidence that women simply aren’t “cut-out” for engineering (which is, of course, utter rubbish).

What seems more likely however is that whilst industry might be doing a better job at attracting female engineers, it’s failing to hang on to them.

This November, in our annual Women In Engineering special we’ll be examining this issue in detail and looking at what industry is doing and should be doing to retain and develop its female engineering staff.  

And this is where you come in. We want to hear from engineers of both genders about what if anything, your employers are doing to retain and develop its female engineering workforce?

But we’re particularly keen to hear from women. Do you feel that your career progression has been hindered – or perhaps helped – by your gender? Do you feel that you’ve enjoyed exactly the same opportunities as your male colleagues? Or have you actually left industry to seek opportunities elsewhere?

We’re really keen to hear your accounts – the more candid the better – and will obviously, if you wish, guarantee your anonymity. If you’re interested in adding your thoughts to this important debate, please post your comments below or contact me at jon.excell@centaur.co.uk