Encouraging girls to challenge gender stereotypes around scientific careers at school could be the key to greater diversity in the engineering sector, it has been claimed. Supporting young women to explore scientific job roles from an earlier age and giving them the confidence to aim for the roles they want, could curb the gender gap and overall shortfall of UK workers in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) industry.
Tasha Collins and Grace Mason-Jarrett believe young women may lack the belief that they can pursue a science-related career. This comes after a Welsh Government report suggested that longstanding assumptions among teachers, parents and children about girls and STEM need to be challenged, if more girls are to pursue these subjects. As female professionals in a scientific field, they believe that challenging perceived gender roles and giving women the confidence to pursue scientific jobs could encourage more women into the engineering profession.
Trainee patent attorney Tasha, believes that the wider notion of gender-specific roles needs to be addressed.
“I think society’s attitude needs to change with regards to male and female jobs,” she said.
“A lot of people tend to say ‘that’s a man’s job’ if something practical needs doing, when in reality, anyone is capable of doing it, they just might lack the confidence or knowledge to give it a go.”
Grace, also a trainee patent attorney with a background in physics, believes women need to be better supported at education level to aim for the roles they want.
“I think encouraging young women who have just graduated to go for the job roles they want, not the job roles they feel they should be doing is key, and universities can play a big role in that with supplying careers advice,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily about attracting women to science, as you’re either interested or not, but more giving people the confidence to pursue something they want to.”
Both women are speaking out about the importance of gender diversity as part of International Women in Engineering Day. The day, held annually on June 23, highlights the careers of women in engineering and technical roles across the world and celebrates their achievements. It also serves to celebrate the men who work alongside and support women into these perceived traditionally male roles.
The call for better gender balance in the industry comes as an Office for National Statistics report revealed that women make up just eight per cent of the engineering workforce in the UK. While figures from the Women’s Engineering Society reveal that the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, with less than 10 per cent in science-based roles. One potential factor influencing the lack of gender diversity could be the lower numbers of girls taking up scientific subjects at school, the Welsh Government has suggested. Figures show that while girls outperform boys in every core subject apart from Mathematics at GCSE level, at A level, girls are under-represented in most of the STEM subjects, with the exceptions of Biology and some vocational award A levels. Welsh universities also experience this gender gap in scientific subjects with women accounting for just 12 per cent of engineering and technology students.
Tasha, a Mechanical Engineering graduate from the University of Bath, said she had witnessed this gender gap throughout her studies. She said: “I think there is an issue with under representation. During my degree, I found that only around 10 per cent of students in my year studying mechanical engineering were female - the lowest percentage of all the courses across my intake.
“In my year in industry, I was the only woman on the 15 person R&D team and one of only two female engineers within the company.
“I think it’s important to have a diverse team as different people have different perspectives and methods of dealing with situations, and without that, teams can quickly become very stagnant.
“My advice to women considering engineering is don’t be intimidated and have confidence in your own abilities - don’t let gender stereotypes put you off.”
Grace agreed that more needed to be done to address this imbalance at an early education level in order to address the gender gap at a later stage. She said: “I think a big part of the current situation is getting girls into science and engineering while they’re at school and teaching them that it’s not a ‘boys job’.
“While we may be slightly underrepresented, it’s more a case of there not being as many women in engineering to hire from as there are men.
“My advice to women wanting to enter the engineering sector is if you enjoy it, then absolutely do it.”