I’ve done a lot of thinking over the past few weeks about women in the working world, so bear with me here. There’s been a recurring theme though lately, because where I’m from we’re getting a very big opportunity in this sector soon:Why do so few women get into engineering? And STEM subjects overall?
I love technology, enjoyed ‘CDT’ at school (Craft Design technology, or woodwork if you were at school a little before me!) and I like to solve problems… OK so there are certain levels of science and maths involved in it (of which I’m proficient, I work in Data now and have a hidden love of science and how things work) so essentially I should have considered it. But I didn’t. Even though I attended a school which had an engineering specialisation.
Do we gender specify careers in our head? Like in years gone by, do we still teach our children that women are nurses and administrators and boys are engineers? How is that fair when we’re in 2016?
Are girls really only good at English and boys the ones who excel in Maths and Science? I’d find lots of women who would disagree – if STEM is the future then women need a foothold in it, but we’ll only get there by nurturing this in our younger generations. My little girl loves bugs, mud, maths, figuring out how things work – she also loves dressing up and playing with dolls too. My son enjoys all those things too, he’s also caring, intelligent, kind and active so I wouldn’t ever tell him that he couldn’t be whatever he set his mind to – nurse, footballer, or astronaut. Why do we take that away from our girls? And at what point do they back away from getting their metaphorical hands dirty?!
The #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign of August 2015 started as a recruitment campaign but ended up as more of a campaign against gender stereotypes. Although it followed #DistractinglySexy after Nobel laureate Tim Hunt voiced that women are distracting in the lab in June of that year. But it brought to attention the fact that women can look however they wish and still be an engineer, scientist, mathematician without losing femininity (or without compromising themselves or others in the lab, thanks Mr Hunt).
I’m sure there are plenty of women and young girls who love design and problem solving and those team building tasks about building things out of paper, string, scissors and the kitchen sink… So why don’t they end up in engineering?
Women continue to be one of the most underrepresented demographics in engineering. The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, at less than 10% and only 6% of registered engineers and technicians (i.e. CEng, IEng, EngTech) are women. This is depressing and it certainly isn’t because we aren’t clever enough in this country – but why do more women not see engineering as an option for them? Especially when there is a shortage of engineers, there are apparent opportunities there and we aren’t encouraging young girls to seek them.
When we think of engineers, do we still see middle aged men in hard hats and high-vis jackets covered in muck? This isn’t what an engineer looks like anymore, there is so much new technology out there and so many solutions to find, designs to create and bridges to build (literally and figuratively!) that we should be keeping up with our global sisters – there are high proportions of female engineers in India, so we’re behind India in our perspective here, which astounds me.
Also consider this, it appears like a great career: in a survey of female engineers, 84% were either happy or extremely happy with their career choice and Engineering students are second only to medics in securing full-time jobs and earning good salaries. Statistics also say that diversity matters: companies are 15% more likely to perform better if they are gender diverse and in a global survey, 85% of corporate diversity and talent leaders agreed that “A diverse and inclusive workforce is crucial to encouraging different perspectives and ideas that drive innovation”.
Maybe the step change that is needed is our preconceptions and opinions, careers come from hard work, opportunities and intelligence – not your gender. Maybe women can rock a hard hat – maybe its not about the hat at all.