Over the last couple of months The IET has been leading a campaign on Twitter to draw attention to the fact that only 9% of engineers in the UK are women. Hundreds of engineers have posted photos with the hashtag 9PercentIsNotEnough aiming to inspire the next generation of female engineers.
A handful of the most recent tweets are brought together in this post.
In the Women's Network we'd love to hear what you think, in the year after The IET had our first female President, what will it take to get more women into engineering? And what will the engineering industry have to do to keep them?
I'm sad to say that the 9% is higher than my experiences in study and industry. I do agree that inspiring children about Engineering early on is vital. My company supports me to occasionally volunteer with school STEM visits, and I remember a teacher telling me that most students will consider the jobs that they see their parents or their friends' parents doing. I know thatmy interest was sparked through my Dad's interest and my brother's decision to study engineering. I was also fortunate to be part of schemes such as Engineering Education Scheme Wales, and EMTA Women Into Science and Engineering Events. But I had to search these out in my teens as I considered what to study. If we can get more girls interested sooner, with more to see and to do I think it would really help. I know that many individuals and groups are working hard on this. But maybe it needs something to bring it together?
I agree that it also depends on what happens within a company and how they support you. I also think it's how we support each other. Sometimes we can get territorial about having worked our way to where we are as women in "a man's world". But that just means that each of us has to start the battle again. When we come together to build each other up we can learn from experience, and build on the previous successes more effectively. I'm giving this a go by bringing the women in STEM in my company together with the aim of networking, sharing, learning and supporting each other. If anyone has any suggestions or learnings from similar activities where they are I'd love to hear about them.
There is a lot of focus on getting the next generation of young girls interested in STEM careers. Whilst this is a great thing, this discounts a lot of working-age women. I loved maths and science when I was at school, but it wasn't until I was in my late 20s that I met my first engineer, and had no idea what engineering was all about before then. You can't pick something as a career if you don't know it is an option, and I think many women of my generation and earlier may have lost out because of this.
Career breaks and child-care have been raised above as problems keeping women out of the engineering industry, but might career breaks also offer a solution? If a part-time, re-training course was available, perhaps more working-age women who were looking at returning to work from other industries might be tempted to enter the field?
Looking at groups of women from other industries might also offer a solution. 40% of teachers are leaving their profession in the first year (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/11505837/Four-in-10-new-teachers-quit-within-a-year-union-warns.html). The majority of teachers are female. Nurses are leaving their profession too (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/jun/25/the-other-nhs-crisis-the-overworked-nurses-who-are-leaving-in-despair). The majority of nurses are also female. Perhaps advertising engineering careers/courses in NUT or NHS newsletters might be a way to access smart women who are ready for a career change and would be happy to re-train for a career in engineering?
Of course, one of the barriers to retraining working women would be the financial side (giving up a wage and the cost of studying), so perhaps an investment in training bursaries would be needed in order to facilitate this.
I think that more companies should offer part-time hours or job-share options as returning to work full time is a big factor that deters women in particular from going back to work or being able to retrain in other areas (NB. This is an issue in all industries, not a problem exclusive to the engineering industry). Full-time study can be prohibitively expensive (whether you are returning to work after having children, or just deciding to embark on a new career), so having part-time study options would also help to appeal to more people so the students may continue to earn enough money as they re-train.
9% is definitely not enough. Engineering generally needs to be promoted more effectively as a viable career option early on; I never considered being an engineer until I was completing my university studies. More action is required in early years at schools before GCSE options are decided.
I think a big issue for women progressing in engineering (and any career) is the assumption that when raising a family they will be the primary caregiver; this is an area where women and men are still not treated equally.
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