Ben Evans, recruitment consultant in Russell Taylor Group’s Technical and Engineering Division, looks to breaching the “leaky pipeline” of the education system as a solution to attracting more women into successful careers in engineering.
SET with the task of writing a blog about women in engineering, as a 31-year-old male recruitment consultant and not a female engineer it was a daunting prospect, to say the least.
Quite frankly, it scared the living day lights out of me as I didn’t want to come across as patronising to the many women in my network. But a lot of thought and research has helped me to see how much of a gender gap there is in the industry - and how much we need to develop multiple channels to portray engineering as a career for all to ensure a diverse and dynamic workforce for the future.
I decided to focus my attention on the grass roots of engineering. After studying various articles on the subject, I soon realised that our choices early on in life are influenced by our self-identity and how the image we have of a particular subject and career fits with that image.
Female attitudes towards the STEM subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics ultimately appeared to differ to those of males - so the key is to understand why this might be.
Girls who study science A-levels tend to be more attracted by medicine and pure science rather than by engineering and technology. This is often due to the lack of strong role models and stereotyping by parents, teachers and society as a whole.
It is therefore paramount that information regarding engineering and technology is made available to female students at an age when they are developing their self-image and thinking about their future career. It’s during Years 5 and 6 that students will engage with science and technology subjects to the same extent so it is imperative that information is present in these formative years.
Repeated associations with words, positive connections and refreshing images through multiple channels can engage and inspire more female students to believe that engineering is a career for them.
However, the message must be constant and one that continues right the way through primary and secondary school, university and graduation. It is the message we portray at grass roots that contributes to the overall retention rate of our female graduates and the number of women in STEM positions.
It is no coincidence that our education system has become known as the “leaky pipeline”, with female engineers flowing along the career pipeline only to “leak out” and be lost to an industry that would have benefited from their skills.
A report written in 2017 estimated that there is an annual skills shortage within the engineering sector equating to 60,000, meaning we need to double the number of engineering students in the UK to meet industry demands. Not only will an increase in the number of female engineering graduates help plug this gap but it will also encourage different perspectives within the workplace, increasing the generation and refinement of ideas and driving innovation.
It is my opinion that, by bridging the gender gap, it will vastly benefit the industry and the economy as a whole.