Dr Hilary Leevers
Chief Executive, EngineeringUK
Take a moment to imagine what a gender-balanced engineering and tech workforce would be like — how its nature would change. Explore the implications of finally addressing the longstanding and very limiting skills shortages.
I am happy to celebrate the progress made towards this gender-balanced vision, as the percentage of women in engineering and technology has grown by six percentage points over the last 11 years to 16.5%. However, this is still woefully short of the 48% of women in the overall workforce. We need more equal progression into the sector.
Need for gender-balanced progression
While the proportion of women starting engineering-related apprenticeships has risen to 14.2%, this is well below the 50.8% of women across all apprenticeships. Undergraduate data is similarly concerning. Only 18.5% of first-year engineering and technology undergraduates are women, compared with 56.5% overall.
More positively, women outperform men in engineering and technology with almost half securing first-class degrees, and they have similar progression into work. Looking back on secondary education, studying maths and physics often precedes engineering. EngineeringUK found that 23% of male students taking either or both A levels, went on to study engineering or technology in higher education, but this was true of just 8% of female students.
More needs to be done to cultivate girls’ appetite for STEM as well as their progression into engineering. Outreach in schools that includes, engages and inspires girls is crucial, alongside high-quality careers guidance.
We’ve wanted to see more young women taking maths and physics for many years, but we also need better conversion rates into engineering. Indeed, with current rates, around 115,000 more female students would need A Levels in maths, physics or both to equal the male numbers progressing into engineering at university.
Engaging schools to encourage girls
More needs to be done to cultivate girls’ appetite for STEM as well as their progression into engineering. Outreach in schools that includes, engages and inspires girls is crucial, alongside high-quality careers guidance. It’s encouraging that hundreds of organisations have pledged to collaborate on their school engagement as part of the Tomorrow’s Engineers Code, striving for that vision of a thriving, diverse and fully supplied workforce.
We also need faster change, and I hope that a positive feedback loop will pick up the pace as girls and young women see better female representation on educational pathways into engineering and technology and women flourishing in the workforce. They need to be visible to achieve this on International Women in Engineering Day — and every day.