Engineering is a discipline that affects every aspect of our daily lives. From the cars that we drive and the buildings we live and work in, to the internet that connects us to everything around us. And with the problems facing our future, such as global warming and the growing need for renewable energy, the demand for engineers is only going to grow and become more important.

 

But while thousands of people will choose to enter this field every year, the majority of them are male.

 

Only 6% of the UK’s engineering workforce are female.


And women only make up 12.8% of the UK’s STEM workforce (Science, Tech, Engineering and Maths)


Not only are these statistics staggeringly low, there’s also no way that we can generate the number of engineers we need without addressing this issue.

No doubt these statistics are a drastic improvement from where the engineering industry used to be, although they still prove that there is a long way to go.


We hope that this report will do three things: highlight the situation currently facing the industry, look at what needs to be done and, most importantly, champion the work that is being done by women across the world already.

 


Why does this gender divide exist?

According to a report entitled ‘Britain’s Got Talented Female Engineers’ by the Royal Academy for Engineering, three-quarters of the women they spoke to said that they believed engineering was regarded as a ‘male career’. That’s a tremendous amount of women actually working within the industry who still feel uneasy about their own profession.

 

Traditionally, roles in certain aspects of science and technology, have been filled by men, and this is a stereotype that has continued to this day. Unfortunately, the professions that may require a more ‘hands-on’ approach, such as engineering and manufacturing, have been seen as roles that require physical strength along with ‘getting your hands dirty’.

 

This problem stems all the way back to days in primary and high schools, before children have even begun to think about the path that they might take in their future career. STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are, even at such a young age, predominantly viewed as ‘boy-subjects’. This sexism continues at industry level, with thousands of women talking to social media and campaigns such as the Everyday Sexism Project (started by Laura Bates) to tell their tales of discrimination in engineering.

 

Some of the stories are enough to put any woman off pursuing this type of career.

 


 

The issue spans the entire industry; and it appears that even the largest companies out there aren’t as fully diverse as they would like to be.

 

One example of this is Google, possibly one of the most well-known companies in the entire world, and at the start of January 2015 Google released their most recent Diversity reports.

 

Their report breaks down the data by gender overall, and then gender in terms of those working in tech-based and non-tech roles. Although these statistics aren’t an accurate reflection of people who apply to work at the search engine giant - the spectrum of those who are qualified could be wider in reality - it still highlights an important issue.

 


 

 

Overall gender split of Google employees Google’s statistics showed that overall just 30% of their employees were women.
Breaking down the statistics even further, you discover that the split of men and women in tech-based roles at Google stands at 82% men and just 18% women.  women in tech roles at Google
 Women in non-tech roles at Google At the other end of the spectrum, women made up 47% of non-tech roles at Google.


 

These statistics, although they may not be widely representative, shows that the issue of a gender divide extends way beyond the realms of engineering, manufacturing and other such subjects that may be deemed ‘boy-subjects’.

 

Why do we need more female engineers?

Britain produces 12,000 engineering graduates a year

 

Britain is facing nothing short of a crisis when it comes to engineers. The above quote was given by Sir James Dyson in 2013 to The Telegraph, discussing the impact a lack of engineering graduates is having on the country’s industry. Almost three years on and the situation has improved little. According to the Women’s Engineering Society, the UK needs to double its engineering workforce in order to meet demand, but it’s not just Britain that’s struggling. Across the entire world, the insatiable demand for engineers is growing, but why would more women in the industry solve the problem?

 

1. More people. End of.

 

With the quote from James Dyson above and top companies across the world struggling to recruit engineers at all levels, it would appear that we just need more engineers full stop. Women make up more than half of the world’s population, so it makes perfect sense that by encouraging more of them to take up engineering, we will go some way towards solving the global shortage. 

 

2. Female engineers for female tech

 

By their very nature, there are some products out there that will only ever be used by women, and pieces of technology and research that will greatly benefit women. Surely, if we are to ever make strides in these fields, such as in pregnancy, birth and reproduction health, women need to be involved in the areas that affect them.

 

3. A different way of thinking

 

Whether it is down to nature or nurture, women and men tend to think differently, and this is certainly not a bad thing. Women are an incredible yet un-tapped resource of knowledge, approaches and ideas; who knows what problems could be solved simply by recruiting more. After all, diversity of thought is good for any business.

 

4. Future inspiration

 

And finally, getting more women into engineering and manufacturing now will serve as incredible inspiration for generations to come, meaning that the situation will only improve.

 

What needs to be done to fix it?

 

Neutronic Technologies is celebrating the steps that have been taken so far to achieve equality for women in engineering and manufacturing, because whilst there still may be a long way to go, the women who have got us this far deserve to be recognised and celebrated for their achievements.

 

Speaking to numerous top women in engineering, whether they work practically or in academia, this report explores the steps that need to be taken in order to reach a balance, and what is being done by women currently to champion the movement.

 

1. Changing views within the industry

 

Louise

GEEKIE

 

Project Director

- Croft Additive Manufacturing

 

Background

 

Manufacturing andbiological sciences

 

“The problem is there are very few role models for females in this industry, which means the sector has a large male bias.”

Without a doubt, changing the views of those already working in the industry will certainly be the most challenging. But it is happening, slowly but surely.

The main way to achieve this is to simply have more women working in engineering and manufacturing at all levels, but this is certainly easier said than done.

 

 

Is this something that will gradually improve over time? As more women enter the industry, and indeed more men who are open to the notion of female in engineering, will the gender balance correct itself?

 

One thing is for certain: education will be key.

 

 2. Changing perceptions outside the industry

 

When you hear the word engineering, what is the first image that comes to your mind? For many people, even nowadays, you’re likely to picture a person (possibly a man) coming to your house to fix a boiler.

 

This highlights an issue similar to the first one that was raised, but this one lies outside of the industry, although it is of no less importance. How are perceptions supposed to change inside the industry by attracting more women, if girls and young women are already put off by their own inaccurate impressions of engineering and manufacturing?

 

The more women who work in engineering and manufacturing, the more this will help with the image of the industry from the outside. But women must first overcome the prejudices inside the industry – it’s a vicious cycle!

 

Research conducted by Neutronic Technologies has suggested that people’s perceptions of the industry from the outside may be becoming more diverse. A survey asked more than 750 people whether they believed engineering and manufacturing had become more attractive subjects to women in the past 10 years. 60% of respondents said yes, and the number rose to 64% when questioning women alone. Although this may not be as high as many people would hope for, it surely is a step in the right direction?

 

Lucy Ackland, who started her career in engineering after finishing her GCSEs with an apprenticeship through Renishaw, believes that people on the outside looking in have a very distorted view of the trade:

 

“The industry should make an effort to dismiss common misconceptions about engineering workplaces. Nowadays, engineering facilities are clean, modern and interesting places to work. However, many people still think of them as the dirty, unattractive manufacturing facilities from decades ago.”

 

We know the problem… What’s the solution?

 

More needs to be done to educate people at all levels, from the students themselves to teachers and parents in order to ensure that everyone has the right impression of the engineering industry.

 

One organisation that is leading the charge for more women and girls to take up STEM subjects is the WISE campaign. It is their ultimate goal to get one million women into the UK’s STEM workforce, and not only do they advise businesses on how to create working environments where women will thrive, but they also get into schools to educate at the very beginning.

 

Targeting children, teachers and parents, WISE holds workshops in schools across the country to educate people about what a career in engineering is really like, and the paths that are available to enter.

 

WISE have a long journey ahead of them; changing the minds and perceptions of people all over the country will take time. But it is proper education that is key to ensuring that everyone who is considering a career in engineering has the education and opportunities they deserve.

 

3. Educating parents early on

 

For many campaigns and initiatives out there, the main focus for getting more young girls and women into engineering and manufacturing will be very much on going into schools and creating an equal amount of interest amongst girls and boys.

 

But more often than not, by the time they reach school age or at least an age where they will be choosing which subjects to study, their minds have been made up for some time already. Although perceptions have progressed greatly, parents may still push stereotypes on to their children, whether they are aware of it or not. And unfortunately this means that any encouragement in schools will have little or no effect.

 

Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon from the University of Sheffield spoke a great deal about the issues that arise from parents not having a correct perception of the industry. And that the role mums and dads play should not be underestimated when it comes to getting more youngsters interested in subjects that ultimately pave the way for a career in engineering.

 

 

“I think a lot has been done to encourage young girls to take up sciences at an early age. But by the time they are encouraged it’s too late.

 

“Mum and dad are the first influences of what we perceive to be a boy’s job or a girl’s job; what it means to be a girl and what it means to be a boy. Mum and dad tend to not know what an engineer or scientist is. They tend to think that an engineer is someone, first of all, who is a man, and who does a dirty job. And that certainly influences their perception and their thoughts and what they say to their little ones.

 

“What we need to do is train mum and dad, so that they can train the little ones.”

Elena

RODRIGUEZ-FALCON

Professor of Enterprise and Engineering Education

- The University of Sheffield

 

Background

 

Mechanical Engineering with Business

 

“There are amazing women out there who can do amazing things, and by the mere fact that they are not involved in engineering, we are losing their abilities.”

 

So… What is being done?

 

Although sending more people into schools to encourage young girls to take up sciences is a great step forward, their efforts may be in vain if Professor Rodriguez-Falcon’s comments ring true. Fortunately, the University of Sheffield are taking the challenge in their stride…

 

 

“Our Women in Engineering Student Society at Sheffield have written a children’s book where, through the story, they explain what a real engineer is,” Professor Rodriguez-Falcon continued.

 

“Mum and dad can read the book to the little ones, learn about it and think ‘really? Is that what an engineer does? Are they really the people that invent the things that we use every day and the things that make us comfortable, happy, healthy and protected?’

 

“And then they hopefully will say to their little ones that they want them to do that; it’ll be really cool if they did that.”

 

4. More female role models

 

 

In 2014 Esther Dyson, who was described by The New York Times as “the most influential woman in all the computer world” gave an interview to the BBC, during which she offered some resonating words.

 

 

“There’s an awful lot of women. But none of us is Bill Gates.”

 

 

Dyson’s statement really hits home. There are a great deal of female engineers and manufacturers out there in the world, but they have trouble getting their voices heard because they are not in the same limelight of the likes of Bill Gates. And having someone to look up to can be a hugely influential factor in someone’s decision to pursue a career.

 

DID YOU KNOW?

 

According to the Royal Academy of Engineering, 91% of female engineers said they had at least one inspirational teacher?

In 2014 Esther Dyson, who was described by The New York Times as “the most influential woman in all the computer world” gave an interview to the BBC, during which she offered some resonating words.

 

“There’s an awful lot of women. But none of us is Bill Gates.”

 

Dyson’s statement really hits home. There are a great deal of female engineers and manufacturers out there in the world, but they have trouble getting their voices heard because they are not in the same limelight of the likes of Bill Gates.  And having someone to look up to can be a hugely influential factor in someone’s decision to pursue a career.

 

 Lucy

ACKLAND

 

 

Project Manager
- Renishaw

 

Background

 

 Apprenticeship, and degree in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering

 

“Typically, I believe girls fall out of love with science and engineering at around age 14. At this age, more needs to be done to keep their passion and interest alive.”

Having aspired for a career in engineering from such a young age, Lucy Ackland can vouch for the effect others can have:

 

“I believe young women are heavily influenced by female role models, so the industry should encourage more of their female staff to become role models and STEM ambassadors.”

 

Edith Clarke. Emily Roebling. Mary Anderson. Hedy Lamarr.

 

These forward-thinking women have pioneered engineering revolutions throughout history, and although they may often be overlooked, no doubt they have served as tremendous inspiration for women currently working in the industry right now.

 

Therefore, it is up to women who are at the height of their careers right now to lead the way forward and serve as motivation for the younger generation to follow in their footsteps.

 

Any one of the women mentioned in this report could become a prominent role model for women in engineering. And what is needed is more of these women in schools, ready to set the record straight about engineering, to quash existing perceptions, and inspire.

 

 

Raising voices, raising awareness

Social media garners a great deal of both praise and criticism for its role in modern society. But in the fight to gain equality for women everywhere, it has very much been a positive tool.

 

Raising awareness is key, to changing perceptions both in and outside the industry, as well as encouraging more girls to take up STEM subjects, and more women to enter engineering. But it’s also being used to show how far we have come in terms of gender diversity within traditionally “male” subjects.

 

One particular Twitter campaign has taken the engineering and manufacturing industry by storm, challenging stereotypes and negativity, and showing the world that women do exist in these sectors, and that they are doing extraordinary work.


 

 

Software engineer, Isis Wenger (pictured above), was featured in a recruitment advert and immediately faced a barrage of criticism on the internet, claiming she wasn’t “remotely plausible” as an image of “what an engineer should look like”. She used the momentum to start a conversation on Twitter about sexism within the industry, and started the hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer

 

 

 

 

By August 2015, the hashtag had garnered more than 75,000 tweets and reached more than 50 countries worldwide.

 

The work started by Isis, and continued by hundreds of women around the world, challenges people’s perceptions of those who work in engineering and manufacturing. Rather than allowing both men and women, and boys and girls, everywhere to carry the notion that an engineer is always a man arriving to fix a boiler, we see real women doing real engineering jobs.

 

 

 

Women across the world took to social media to tell their stories of sexism in the industry, but they also did an exceptional thing. They stood up and made themselves heard and showed critics that tremendous steps have already been taken to get them where they are.

 

So when the statistics talk about how few women there are in the industry, these women are here to shout about what they have achieved already, and to serve as role models for future generations to come.

 

What does the future hold?

Three women contributed to this report. Three women with backgrounds in engineering who have shared their experiences, beliefs and hopes for the future of the industry, particularly for girls looking to follow in their footsteps. Their positivity about the work that they are doing, and their dreams about the future are inspiration enough on their own, especially with projects such as WISE and the University of Sheffield’s book.

 

There is certainly a long way to go before women even begin to make up a representative portion of the engineering workforce, but the work being done to get there will certainly shorten the timeframe. Women in engineering campaigns, dedicated support groups and even a National Women in Engineering Day; trailblazing work is taking place at all angles to get women and girls into science.

 

But with increasing pressure on our resources, our energy consumption increasing, and our dependence on technology deepening, surely the true measure of progress will be when there is no longer a need for a dedicated 24 hours to women in engineering.