Trimble MEP highlights why the government and industry have a responsibility to encourage more female engineers
Recent research from CV-Library, the UK’s leading independent job site, reveals that an overwhelming 71.8% of female engineers don’t believe that young women are being made aware of the abundant career opportunities available in the sector. Ultimately this has a damaging effect on the pipeline of female talent.
The research was conducted amongst more than 500 female engineers, with the aim of better understanding how women in the sector feel about their careers and the opportunities available to others who may be looking to break into the industry.
It’s no secret that there’s a real lack of women undertaking careers in STEM, and this coupled with the fact that the number of women studying towards a university degree in the field has remained virtually static is undoubtedly alarming for the industry and the UK economy as a whole. The fact that more has to be done to attract new female talent into the field is undeniable; however, with traditional gender stereotypes and discrimination to overcome, employers certainly have a way to go.
Women have a role to play
Latest figures suggest that the UK will need over one million new technicians and engineers in the next five years, so it’s paramount that employers are taking steps to encourage both men and women into the industry. There’s an abundance of opportunities available. However, many still believe that engineering is a ‘man’s job’ and that women simply can’t measure up.
Worryingly, it appears that over half of the women surveyed (56.5%) believe that young females are deterred from entering the industry because many still view engineering as a ‘male profession’. This opinion appears to be particularly prolific amongst those aged between 25-34 (the figure jumps to 59.4%), so the future generation of female engineers could be facing a real challenge.
The UK building and construction sector is currently suffering from a national skills shortage and encouraging more women to join the industry has been identified as key in diffusing what is otherwise a ticking time-bomb. However, take up and retention rates for further education engineering courses remain in decline as do the number of girls taking STEM subjects at exam level.
Alarmingly, one of the most often aired explanations for the gaping gender gap is that girls simply aren’t interested in STEM subjects. Anyone who has ever spent time around young children and Lego knows this is absurdly untrue. While a degree of disinterest is inevitable in either sex, research shows that where girls are given practical engineering tasks to complete and enjoy as frequently as their male counterparts, their interest is peaked and retained at a corresponding level. Disengagement typically occurs when peers, parents and teaching staff, wittingly or otherwise, begin to suggest or promote segregation in the way girls and boys evaluate and solve STEM problems. Where there is equality between the sexes regarding practical STEM experiences, girls show more than enough aptitude, understanding and enthusiasm. With BIM opening up so many exciting engineering and contracting career opportunities, it is particularly woeful that more girls do not opt for working in the AEC industry. In the western society, girls are constantly subject to an influx of subliminal messaging pushing them towards so-called ‘soft subjects’. While boys are encouraged to get their hands dirty and be assertive, girls are told, emphatically, that their role is to mediate, negotiate and people-please. Arguably, what the advent of BIM does (as well as being an industry game changer) is to elevate those self-same ‘soft skills’ from a position of perceived inferiority to the vanguard of an industry revolution. In placing collaboration and communication at the fore, BIM is dependent on professionals who have a broad understanding of its value as a philosophy rather than viewing it merely as a software or – worse still – a fad. Ironically, after years of pejorative action and thinking in STEM, surely girls are now ideally placed to lead the industry as it transitions and blossoms?
Industry has a role to play
Unfortunately, with so few women visible in the sector, the challenge of bridging the engineering gender divide all too often falls almost exclusively to teachers, and the lack of practical opportunities available in a classroom setting all too often fails to inspire. Furthermore, non-specialist educationalists – outside of further and higher education – are unlikely to have even the slightest grasp of what BIM is or what it entails.
Without the industry itself stepping in to make-up the classroom shortfall, it seems unlikely that the UK skills shortage will ever be addressed and that’s a huge blow to everyone. Perhaps what is required is a targeted and meaningful campaign whereby businesses step in and offer girls and boys the chance to get to grips with BIM? If not, the future of the industry is set to suffer worldwide as the skills shortage spreads and grows.
To read CV library’s full article on Women in Engineering visit: mep.trimble.co.uk/connects and download Connects, your free magazine from Trimble MEP with expert independent contributions from across and beyond the MEP construction sector.