Time to wise up

Mark Smith | 09 Oct 2015 | Comments

We need more women to choose engineering

The autumn season is here and in the early careers team that means one thing, the attraction of graduates to our 2016 vacancies.

This year we have nearly 400 graduate vacancies available across the UK and one of the ways we advertise these new opportunities to students is by attending the university’s annual graduate recruitment fairs. However a recent article in the Guardian suggests that this year there will be more competition than ever as employers are “under pressure” to use these events to attract more women.

Figures from the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) suggest that out of the top graduate schemes only 42% of hires are female, despite almost 60% of graduates being women. With those statistics you would think achieving greater gender diversity would be quite easy to achieve. However when scrutinising these figures in a little more detail the challenges are much more complicated.

When we look at the latest data provided by the university admissions service UCAS, we find that the gender balance across engineering courses is highly uneven. In fact 84.5% of students studying engineering degrees are male. This means there are over 20,000 more men than women studying in our sector. This makes the competition to attract female engineers and the issue of hiring to address gender imbalances much more difficult than the AGR’s graduation data implies.

Where does this gender imbalance come from?

Some new research by child psychology and behaviour specialists InnovationBubble found that girls are being impacted by unconscious bias around working in the engineering sector from as early as seven years old, many thinking it is a dirty or messy job. Unfortunately this leads onto the finding that by the time girls were 14 they see engineering as “unglamorous and anti-social” with many “switched off” to the idea of a career in engineering entirely.

Naomi Climer, the first female president of the IET has warned that “engineering has remained stubbornly stuck in the past.” With her concern that parents, teachers and young people just aren’t being properly informed of the “amazing range” of opportunities are available to engineers. (Source: Guardian)

The bright side to this research is that the study also highlights an opportunity. It found that by using positive role models and by talking about the social purpose and impact of engineering with girls from the age of 11, there was a notable change in the girls’ attitudes and impressions of engineering careers.

It’s time to WISE up!

It’s clear to me that if we are going to get the gender diversity we want within the engineering sector, we need to provide more positive engineering influences for girls in this age range.

One way we are doing that here at Atkins is by working in partnership with WISE, a leading campaign that is set up to promote women in science, technology and engineering. The aim of WISE is to get one million more women in the UK STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) workforce. Our work with WISE covers a wide range of different projects, schemes and initiatives that exist to change the perceptions of the STEM industries amongst teenage girls and their teachers. We have over 175 Atkins STEM ambassadors working with schools and colleges to promote these subjects and we are also offering mentoring programmes.

Further to our work with WISE and local communities, we are developing and inspiring our female employees through our Women’s Leadership Council and Women’s Professional Network, which hold regular events across our offices. These initiatives ensure the development of strong female role models and mentors in our sector as well as supporting our employee’s career progression.

With an estimated 1.82million extra engineers being required in the UK over the next ten years, it’s clear that there will be some fantastic opportunities available to our next generation of engineering graduates. It’s now down to us and our industry to encourage the study of STEM subjects, show off the huge potential of careers in engineering and provide positive role models to young people, so that this prospect is exciting for women as it is for men.