After a century of campaigning, why do we have so few women engineers?
21 Jun 2019
Windscreen wipers, computer software, space station batteries and the circular saw can all be credited to female engineers – so why are there so few women in the profession in the UK?
Helen Marston, engineer at Cressall Resistors shares her thoughts to mark International Women in Engineering Day on June 23…
According to the Women's Engineering Society (WES), only 12% of engineers in the UK are women - the lowest percentage in Europe.
While countries such as Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus have much smaller economies and populations than Britain, they are home to a greater proportion of female engineers - with women comprising almost 30% of the profession's workforce.
Founded on June 23, 1919, the WES was created to encourage women into roles that had previously been available during the First World War in munitions and other manufacturing work when many men had been drafted into the army.
The group of influential women founders received government backing to support female engineers who, despite their wartime contribution, were by then under pressure to hand their positions back to men returning from the forces.
The society celebrates its centenary and continues to support and encourage female engineers to achieve their potential. In this landmark year, what can be done to promote and nurture female engineers?
Tapping into talent
The industry is still gripped with the skills gap dilemma. In 2017, just 15.1 per cent of UK engineering graduates were women and around 20 per cent of A-level physics students are female — a figure that hasn’t changed in 25 years. It’s no secret that we need more skilled workers in order for the UK’s industry to thrive, and organisations need to act to help facilitate opportunities for new talent.
Offering student work placements provides a huge advantage to the industry, as they can develop practical skills and support the business with their enthusiasm and up-to-date academic knowledge. This often leads to full time positions with the placement organisation, helping young people build rewarding and successful careers.
Whether it’s the creation of fundamental inventions or encouraging other women to pursue a career in the industry, we’d be lost without female engineers
I’m just one example of student placement success, after joining Cressall for a year during my third year at university. I was offered a full-time position post-study in the first six weeks of my placement and have worked at Cressall as a technical designer for almost fourteen years since graduating.
I knew from a young age that I wanted a career in the engineering industry. However, at school, I’d spoken to a careers advisor and they provided me with information that, had I followed it, would have prevented me from pursuing the career in engineering that I wanted.
Despite the well-publicised skills gap, many students simply aren’t provided with the right information when it matters most. Providing teachers and careers advisors with the correct information will mean that students today won’t inadvertently be guided off the course of an engineering career.
Whether it’s the creation of fundamental inventions or encouraging other women to pursue a career in the industry, we’d be lost without female engineers. As we celebrate the achievements and presence of talented women in the engineering industry, it is vital that we look to the future and act to inspire and support talented young engineers — male and female.
Photo: Events such as Subcon 2019 have provided a platform for the profile of women in engineering
Video: Gemma Dalziel, an apprentice network consulting engineer at Cisco Systems, awarded the Mary George Memorial Prize for Apprentices at the 2017 IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards, discusses how she came to work in the profession (below).