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Expert comment: Why do we need more women in engineering?

Anuradha Ranasinghe Thursday 23 June 2016

In honour of National Women in Engineering Day, Lecturer in Computer Science Dr Anuradha Ranasinghe discusses why a large female presence is important for the field.

Engineering is a diverse discipline that can lead to a fantastic range of career opportunities that address the world's greatest challenges. These include managing pressures on energy, transport and urban infrastructure, and making vital breakthroughs in biology and healthcare through bioengineering.

By 2022, the UK will need at least 1.82 million new engineering, science and technology professionals [1]. However, there is a great shortage of graduate engineers in the UK and women are currently particularly underrepresented.

Women account for only 7 per cent of the professional engineering workforce in the UK, and less than 4 per cent of engineering technicians [2]. The gender imbalance in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects begins post-GCSE, when many young women drop out of STEM-related study [3].

The projections show the UK will experience a serious shortage of engineers in the coming years, representing a threat to the industry, and to the economy more generally. There are some new developments in vocational training to attract more girls into STEM training and engineering careers [4], but the target is to have at least 25 per cent female enrolment by 2020, which suggests the current figures are much lower [4].

The key is to change girls’ and young women’s self-concept, and to widen their aspirations so they at least consider a STEM career. Keeping more women in the engineering talent pipeline will require many interventions.

To help overcome the barriers to attracting greater female talent to engineering, the government, schools and business all have roles to play in influencing career choices and aspirations. How people view themselves in relation to science is important in determining their future career choices. It would be better to create strategies to boost young engineering women’s self-concepts. Those strategies and interventions will help to attract more young girls, who will consider engineering as a rewarding and fruitful career option for their future.

References

[1] Dowling Ann, “Why engineering should be a woman's game”, BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-30876899, 3 February 2015.

[2] Institute of Engineering and Technology [IET] (2013) Skills and Demand in Industry: Annual Survey 2013

[3] Silim Amna & Crosse Cait, “Women in Engineering fixing the talent pipeline”, Institute for public policy research (IPPR 2014), September 2014.

[4] Women in Science and Engineering [WISE] and Royal Academy of Engineering [RAE] (2014) University Technical Colleges: Opening up New Opportunities for Girls, Bradford.

 

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