Lets Hear It Girls

With female representation in the engineering sector in the UK being the lowest in Europe, more needs to be done to encourage women to enter the field. Claire Cameron has the storey.

Despite a gradual shift in the role of an engineer over the last few decades, it remains a male-dominated industry.

Engineering UK recently estimated that 1.82 million new engineers would be required by 2022, claiming that companies with a gender balance were 15% more likely to perform better.

The UK has the lowest percentage of women working in the sector in Europe, at 6%. According to a recent Recruitment and Employment Confederation study, more than half (54%) of engineering employers believe skills shortages have become more apparent in the last 12 months, with a lack of women applying for jobs cited as one of the main causes.

According to reed.co.uk, 120,991 women applied for UK engineering jobs last year, while 1,043,507 men did.

However, Randstad CPE, a specialist recruiter, believes that this figure is about to change for the better.

Women will account for more than a quarter (26%) of all workers in the UK construction industry – including engineering – by 2020, according to their research, and this proportion ‘could grow further given the right cultural change.’

According to the research, there are still many barriers to overcome, with a lack of awareness being the most common reason (43%) preventing women from entering the construction and engineering sectors, followed by a lack of role models (42%), and a’macho’ image (42%). (41 per cent).

So, what can be done to encourage more women to pursue careers in engineering?

“Well, not what we’ve been doing so far,” admits Jessica Wade, a member of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) young women’s board, whose organisation has seen the number of female A-level students fall from 24% to 21% since the ‘buzz’ around recruiting women into science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) began in 1985.

WISE is on a mission to get one million women in the UK workforce, and Wade says, “We’ve got to get well-trained ambassadors and experts to come out of their labs and offices to talk to and support young students in extended research projects and mentoring.”

“Work experience, weekly science clubs, and participation in national challenges and competitions are simple ways for businesses to participate.”

According to Sue Wright, managing director of Waldeck, the industry’s biggest challenge is dispelling the myth that engineering is a hostile environment for women.

Waldeck, one of the UK’s leading strategy, design, and implementation consultants, has been actively involved in promoting women in engineering through social media campaigns in recent months.

This has included activities at sites to promote the United Nations’ first International Day for Women and Girls in Science, as well as the hashtags #WomenInStem and #NotJustForBoys.

“Unfortunately, it has taken a long time for key industry players to recognise the gender gap in engineering,” Wright says. “However, efforts are finally being made to attract females to the industry.”

“Historically, far fewer women than men have been recruited into engineering – something I believe is due to fewer women applying for roles, rather than a failure to recruit them post-application.”

“Perceptions must change from the ground up, and Waldeck works with students early on, when they are making important decisions at school and university.”

“At Waldeck, we are proud to have female digital engineers working on some of our most prestigious projects, including the redevelopment of London Bridge station by Crossrail.”

“We currently have 31% female representation, including senior operational directors and executive board members, which we are constantly striving to improve.”

Roisin Clarke and Victoria Dobbs, project managers at The Rolton Group, are two of the company’s female graduate engineers, who come from a variety of backgrounds.

However, when the leading multidisciplinary engineering consultancy recently advertised for an apprenticeship scheme in Built Environment Engineering, no female applicants were received.

And Dobbs, who has been with Rolton for three years, believes that more needs to be done to dispel the notion that engineering is a man’s world.

She believes that readdressing the education system from an early age is critical because schools and universities play an important role in encouraging more women to consider a career in engineering.

“Girls are expected to do home economics in school, while boys are expected to do woodwork and technical drawing.” These barriers must be removed, and all subjects should be made available to both boys and girls.

“I also believe that more talks should be held in schools to encourage girls to pursue careers in engineering and the construction industry.” It might open their eyes to something they hadn’t considered.”

Meanwhile, Wade, who collaborates with the Institute of Physics, Royal Academy of Engineering, STEMettes, Greenlight4Girls, and the UK Space Design Competition to promote equal opportunities for school girls, believes unconscious biases play a significant role in discouraging women from pursuing careers in engineering.

“Girls are just as excited as boys about advances in science and engineering,” she says.

“However, we are a generation that has uncontrollable unconscious biases against people of different genders, races, sexual orientations, nationalities, disabilities, religions, and backgrounds.”

“Girls are told from a young age that careers in STEM are not for them.” Teachers and parents are unsupportive, and they have no connections to jobs in the industry.

Wade admits that the challenge will only be met if schools take charge of gender balance.

“I don’t think schools do a good enough job of integrating careers advice into the curriculum, and poorly equipped careers advisors are unable to deal with questions about the engineering industry, so students have completely unrealistic expectations about how to get into these roles.”

“I’d like to see national support networks for school students established, so that if you’re the only girl in your further maths or physics class, you know you’re not alone.”

Breaking down the barriers – why should women pursue careers in engineering?

“Careers in engineering provide some of the most exciting challenges and opportunities in the job market,” Wade said.

“From creating video games and theme park rides to designing cutting-edge technology and constructing skyscrapers, UK engineers are in high demand, and women have been shutting doors to this career for decades due to a lack of proper training or education.”

Wright, who began her career in logistics, was also looking for a challenging position and initially joined Waldeck in a business development role.

“I was not concerned about my gender when applying for roles,” she says, “and this is an attitude that Waldeck is actively promoting among young women today.”

Despite the fact that her father was a project engineer and she was exposed to the industry at a young age, Dobbs did not consider a career in engineering until she was nearing the end of her Earth Science degree.

However, after completing her Geology degree, she went on to pursue a Masters degree in engineering, geology, and construction engineering before joining the Rolton Group as a graduate engineer.

She claims, however, that she has never encountered any sexism or negativity in her role.

“Women in the industry are very successful. “There are so many opportunities and so much job variety,” she says.

“I believe it is more about how you speak to people, how you interact with them, and how good you are at your job than it is about being male or female.”

“I believe my personality earns me respect from all of my peers.”

“I’ve always gotten positive feedback. I haven’t had any negative experiences. It’s simply not an issue at Rolton.

“Sometimes you’ll show up at a construction site and someone will say, ‘Oh you’re female, I wasn’t expecting to see you,’ or ‘it’s nice to see a female in the field,’ but there’s no negativity or concern that we can’t do our jobs.”

Clarke, her 27-year-old colleague, attended an all-girls school where practical subjects were not emphasised, but after discovering she enjoyed math-based subjects, she decided she wanted to pursue an engineering degree.

“I wasn’t really pushing to do a Masters,” Clarke, who earned a Bachelor’s degree in engineering and civil engineering in the United Kingdom, explains.

“Instead, I got a job at Cambridge Council’s planning department.”

“It was only maternity cover for a few months, but it was a stepping stone before I took a nine-month job in a fire system lab, which gave me the practical construction experience I needed before joining Rolton.”

Clarke now believes that apprenticeships could be the key to addressing the current skills shortage and attracting more women to work in the industry.

“So many people are forced to do university degrees, but apprenticeships are a really good alternative way of gaining a more practical route into the industry,” she says.

Bridging the Gender Gap

With reports like EY’s ‘Fast Forward’ claiming the UK’s engineering sector is 117 years away from gender parity and equal pay, and the Young Women’s Trust apprenticeship report revealing female apprentices earn £2,000 less per year than men, Wade believes “it’s the ideal time to make some pretty big changes.”

Clarke and Dobbs are among the first senior female engineers to join the Rolton Group, and the pair are already vying for top positions, admitting that there is an element of wanting to succeed more because they are women.

Neither believes that their gender will prevent them from reaching the summit.

“We’ve already been promoted and encouraged,” says Dobbs, who was promoted to project manager six months ago along with Clarke.

Water Source Heat Pump

“I don’t think we’d ever be denied a promotion because we’re female.”

Clarke believes there is plenty of hope for future success with the media and industry focusing on encouraging more women into the engineering sector.

“Right now, there is a lot of momentum behind encouraging more women to enter the industry.”

“All we have to do now is keep it going.”

“If that focus continues throughout our careers, I don’t see gender issues being a problem at all when we start applying for more senior roles.”

Last Updated on December 28, 2021


Author: Indra Gupta

Indra is an in-house writer with a love of Newcastle United and all things sustainable.

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