Today is National Women in Engineering Day, which is dedicated to raising the profile and celebrating the achievements of women in the industry.
This is the third year that the day has been celebrated but behind the celebration is a worrying long-term trend for girls and women to shy away from an engineering career. This is not just an issue for gender diversity, it’s a very significant problem that is contributing to skills shortages which, if they go unchallenged, will damage our economy.
In the UK, women represent just nine per cent of engineers, the lowest percentages in Europe. Analysis by the Royal Academy of Engineering suggests we will need more than a million new engineers and technicians by 2020 to fulfil demand and continue to boost the economy. So improving our gender diversity – and indeed our diversity more generally in engineering – has a strong economic motivation.
What perplexes me most about all of this is that it doesn’t need to be this way. The variety of creative and stimulating careers available to women in modern engineering is vast – female engineers today are working on everything from healthcare technology that can combat some of the world’s most prevalent diseases, to designing the space vehicle for the next mission to Mars. So it’s a crying shame that more girls aren’t aware of these fantastic career opportunities that they could be missing out on – and, as a result, industry is losing the innovation and creativity that inevitably comes with greater diversity in the workforce.
So how do we entice more girls into engineering? It’s a challenge the Institution of Engineering and Technology and others have been grappling with for years: finding and championing female engineering role models to inspire the next generation, working with schools and parents to make sure girls get the right career advice and encouraging more girls to study ‘engineering gateway’ subjects like maths and physics. Progress is slow – but I’m optimistic. Entries for the 2016 IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards championing female engineering talent, which close on Thursday, June 30, are strong this year. Clearly today’s female engineers and the companies they represent are not losing heart and are still committed to getting more women in the UK’s engineering workforce. They know, as I do, that being an engineer is one of the most exciting and fast-moving places to be at the moment. Our challenge now is to get the next generation of career women to realise this.
President, Institution of Engineering and Technology