Half the world’s population is female. Sadly the employment rate in the engineering and, by extension, entire scientific community doesn’t reflect that. It’s embarrassingly low, at just six percent for female engineers.
That’s a problem. And not just because of the inequalities of gender imbalance. The UK is a country built on engineering prowess – and right now needs up-and-coming graduates to fill scores of vacancies. With the sufficient talent and jobs, the British economy’s looking at an extra £27bn by 2022. That ought to pay for a couple more slide rulers for the nation’s kids.
But to claim that pot the industry requires 200,000 engineering trainees or graduates per year. That means doubling the current numbers joining the industry. With the measly 6 percent of females, major work needs to be done to enhance the attractiveness of the trade – the wages, working conditions and overall prospects of employment – to women.
The cultural shift to science
There’s an urgent need to engender belief and interest in the sciences beyond vocation and that’s not just engineering, but all STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and maths). To make science appealing and inspiring is a significant cultural step that the country needs to take if it is to attract more women. If we can actually achieve that, then the UK might start reducing its deficit of trained engineers.
So how’s that done then?
Well, cultural inroads are finally being made – and made determinedly. In June this year, the Women’s Engineering Society celebrated National Women in Engineering Day to both publicise the lack of females in the industry whilst championing those who are. During 350 school events across the country, with a further 200 elsewhere and a top trend on Twitter, the message was put across loud and clear that the industry needs women.
A gender imbalance in science leads to a gender imbalance in the kind of research undertaken. Without a healthy gender mix, whether subconsciously or otherwise, scientific research will be geared largely towards the concerns of those leading it. Fresh perspective and differing needs lead to greater discoveries and constant peer revisionism, the crux of progressive scientific research. Greater diversity results in more naturally creative and innovative work environments.
The future has a Y chromosome
Attracting more women into STEM, and more specifically to engineering, isn’t just a female concern. It’s a drive that would benefit the whole strata of research and boost business. Starting now, with pressure groups such as WISE, awareness campaigns and a cultural shift away from stereotyped gender expectations from an early age, the UK can reclaim its industry foothold on the world’s stage again. That’s the key to engineering’s future.
The gradual momentum has started. The celebration and recognition have begun. With a positive start, we can generate and maintain a snowball effect of females turning their attention and efforts to the STEM industries. If it can become a trend, rather than a quirk, the world of engineering will be richer in both research and finance – and a more industrious force altogether.