Ella Hendrix, Writer, highlights the rise in women taking up careers in engineering, focusing on the changing attitudes towards female-friendly workplaces and what else can be done by schools to encourage the uptake of STEM jobs
Engineering has been a sector that traditionally has had a very low number of women working in it. It has always been seen as a ‘male-dominated’ industry, mainly due to its technical nature, but things, fortunately, are changing.
In the UK we are seeing more and more women going into engineering careers due to a number of factors that not only adds to the industry through the valuable input that women have but also diversifying solutions and solving problems that might not have been considered in a more ‘masculine’ world.
Engineering recruitment agencies are finding that there has been an increase not only in women who are choosing careers in engineering but also in the number and nature of engineering jobs that are available. This high demand for engineers is mainly due to the newer challenges faced by the world today, such as climate change, but also industry 4.0 – the increase in the reliance on technical solutions instead of human manpower, and we are seeing a higher percentage of these jobs being taken by women.
The importance of engineering
Engineering is behind everything in society, from the way that we help our sick people, to the way that we manufacture products – as well as, of course, helping us to secure the future of our planet – so having diversity in the industry is very important.
Engineers help us to solve problems and facilitate time or energy-consuming processes, but also keep machinery well-maintained, efficient, and functioning properly. It is therefore highly important that we have good female representation in the engineering sector. Although some progress has been made, we are still not where we’d like to be in the UK.
There is a range of reasons why women are increasingly taking up engineering careers, including:
Different nature of engineering jobs
We are seeing a wider diversity in the nature of engineering jobs that are needed. This means that engineering is more appealing to a higher number of people – some of them, of course, women. With ‘newer’ engineering sectors – such as environmental engineering which looks at designing and innovating solutions to the environmental crisis which we are facing, or software engineering which looks at developing new software – we are seeing more accessibility for women.
It would be unfair to say that the engineering industry hasn’t made efforts to try to attract more women by making their workplaces more ‘women-friendly’. The engineering sector has long since had a reputation for not being very welcoming to women, but this is changing.
We are now seeing better career opportunities for women (and more women in leadership roles), a greater acceptance of flexi-time or remote working opportunities by engineering companies, and the stamping down of sexist behaviour, for example.
Change in gender attitudes
Another major factor in the increase of females in the engineering industry is the substantial change that we have seen with regard to gender in general attitudes in society in the past few years. It is no longer acceptable to have ‘male’ and ‘female’ jobs or roles in general, and the breaking down of these barriers means that women are considering engineering jobs much more than previously.
Schools and education
We are seeing more encouragement of girls to study STEM and more technical subjects at school, both through the breaking down of gender barriers but also through the increase in female role models in engineering and teaching.
What else can be done?
Whilst progress is good, there is still a long way to go in terms of female representation in the engineering industry. The answer to this is generally, more of the same as what has already been done.
Creating workplaces that embrace the skills and abilities which are generally more aligned with the way that women work, as well as companies who seek to enable women to both have a career and parenting is also important in increasing the number of women in engineering roles.
Education and aspiration are other important factors. Girls need to be inspired and given the ability to believe that they could and should work in engineering, through school initiatives, engagement with the engineering industry and role models.
The future of society is in engineering. Whether it is designing the software for robots, the mechanics behind the machines which manufacture furniture, developing medicines or the latest scanner, or ensuring communications systems are working properly, engineers are in high demand. This makes engineering a great job prospect for both men and women and one which can lead to a long, successful career that could really make a difference to the world.
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