Skip to main content
Home » Engineering and Maths » Women engineers and the pace of progress
Women in STEM Q2 2022

Women engineers and the pace of progress

iStock / Getty Images Plus

Elizabeth Donnelly

CEO, Women’s Engineering Society

The number of women in engineering is on the rise, but is it cause for celebration or frustration when this number is not moving fast enough?

Research from EngineeringUK (March 2022) shows that 16.5% of the engineering workforce are female, compared to 10.5% in 2010.

This is a significant jump considering the 100+ years women have been in the engineering workforce. But many will argue that the needle isn’t moving quickly enough. By contrast, according to ILO figures, 58% of all women in the UK participate in the workforce. In science they made up 46%, even in 2019 (WISE).

Early forces of change

If we’re to see gender parity in engineering, efforts need to be made to encourage females at all levels to engage in STEM education. From their earliest years, girls need activities that spark their interest in developing skills that will lead them into engineering. We need to encourage parents to nurture these in their girls.

In primary education, girls need early contact with engineering, to connect with relevant and inspiring role models. Teachers need to be empowered to deliver stimulating STEM education. Career education needs to begin earlier, so girls approaching critical decisions around GCSEs don’t inadvertently make it harder for themselves by opting out of STEM related subjects.

Research from EngineeringUK (March 2022) shows that 16.5% of the engineering workforce are female, compared to 10.5% in 2010.

Further education choices need to be properly supported, so the building blocks are laid for a successful progression into engineering. The proportion of females studying engineering at a higher education level is unacceptably low. We need to help our girls and young women recognise their potential as engineers prior to any influences or decisions that might steer them away from that path.

Recruitment and retention are critical

The solution is not all about the youngest members of society. To make a significant dent in the figures, we must ensure those who are educated as engineers actually become them. Higher Education and apprenticeship pathways need to be lined not only with attractive learning, but also accessible insights into careers and diverse female role models. In the words of Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Recruitment is still only half the battle in the career landscape. Once women have become engineers, companies need to do more to keep them there. We cannot fill the female engineering “bucket” if we allow great talent to leak out. It will take all of these measures together for us to see equal representation and true diversity in the engineering workforce.

Next article