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Women in Engineering

Engineering, General advice September 30, 2008

Women in Engineering

WOMEN IN ENGINEERING

Britain is suffering from a severe shortage of well-trained engineers, a shortage that could be addressed if more women decided to join the industry. Gina Citroni, Commercial Director of Amplicon, explores how to get more females entering the Engineering sector.

There is a definite need for young women to be motivated and inspired to develop their interests in science and engineering, with a view to understanding the career options available to them within those industries: options that not only include research, development and design, but boardroom-level management too.

According to Women in Science, Engineering and Construction, 54 per cent of young females believe that engineering work takes place in a ‘dirty’ environment and that it is uninteresting and does not pay well. Paradoxically, the same body of research reveals that the older female population values the importance of science, technology and engineering – heralding these industries as some of the best opportunities for the next generation.

So, why do young women dismiss the industry so easily and what can we as their parents, mentors, role-models and potential employers do?

There is a real need to raise the profile of the engineering and technology professions and highlight them as career options, dismissing certain stereotypes along the way. To do this, it’s important to interact with young girls on their level and in their own language. What’s the point of sitting a high-flying wealthy chairman in his mid-60s in front of these young women? Use real women already working within the sector as role-models.

Women with engineering backgrounds have joined Science Sisters and are registered Science and Engineering Ambassadors, acting as role models for young students. They provide networking and exchange of information within the local community, as well as with regional employers. They also strive to change stereotypes. But, this is a pilot scheme, and without Government support and funding it is likely it will fade away. We should also be making maximum use of alternative channels to spread the message. As the use of social networking becomes the channel of choice for younger generations, our ability to reach out to them through interactive platforms must follow. At the same time we must deliver more effective programmes of targeting younger females through schools, community programmes, and local councils.

Year after year, it is reported that girls are producing higher exam results and more young women are going to university. In the last ten years, the numbers of young women registering on undergraduate degree courses has risen by 37 per cent*. This is comparable to a rise of 15 per cent for young men over the same period. However, the increase in young women adopting computer science, engineering, and technical courses is minimal. In fact, in the past seven years, the number of women registering for these courses has grown by only one per cent – just 120 women in total.

On a brighter note, the Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA) reports an increase of nine per cent in women starting to study for a first degree in engineering and technology. However, a nine per cent increase in the number of women on these courses is little to shout about when we already know that 35 per cent more women over the same period have enrolled on first degrees. So, 250,000 women have chosen to overlook degrees in these areas and, consequently, are likely to choose alternative careers.

* Statistics source: Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA).

UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology: www.ukrc4setwomen.org

The UKRC for Women in SET works to significantly improve the participation and position of women in science, engineering and technology occupations in industry, research, academia and public service to benefit the future productivity of the UK and the lifetime earnings and career aspirations of women.

 

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