The IET Says #9PercentIsNotEnough

9%isnotenough
Over the last couple of months The IET has been leading a campaign on Twitter to draw attention to the fact that only 9% of engineers in the UK are women.  Hundreds of engineers have posted photos with the hashtag 9PercentIsNotEnough aiming to inspire the next generation of female engineers.

A handful of the most recent tweets are brought together in this post.

In the Women's Network we'd love to hear what you think, in the year after The IET had our first female President, what will it take to get more women into engineering?  And what will the engineering industry have to do to keep them?

 
Posted by Fiona Dew on Dec 14, 2016 11:40 AM Europe/London

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9% is definitely not enough. Engineering generally needs to be promoted more effectively as a viable career option early on; I never considered being an engineer until I was completing my university studies. More action is required in early years at schools before GCSE options are decided.

I think a big issue for women progressing in engineering (and any career) is the assumption that when raising a family they will be the primary caregiver; this is an area where women and men are still not treated equally.
  • Posted Wed 14 Dec 2016 01:12 pm GMT
Never thought that percentage of women in engineering would be so low. I think proper training and giving chance of getting work experience would help to change this scenario .
  • Posted Wed 14 Dec 2016 01:28 pm GMT
I completely agree, 9% is not enough. Engineering needs to be promoted more effectively and earlier on to Women as a viable career choice. Unfortunately prejudice still exist which can stop young women pursuing STEM in education and ultimately engineering as a career option. Promoting STEM and campaigns such as #9percentisnotenough are ways we can combat these prejudices from those of us in industry. However I think more focus should be put on schools to ensure all schools are giving fair and consistent career advice.

I also agree with Michelle’s point. The big issue in progressing in any career is the assumption that women will be the primary care givers. When I went to school my education did not cover such significant social issues, education here can definitely be improved and it goes hand in hand with my point above.
I also think that schemes such as shared parental leave for those starting a family are key to ensuring a fairer playing field for progressing in any career. The old 1 week policy for paternity leave is outdated and out right sexist.
  • Posted Wed 14 Dec 2016 03:52 pm GMT
I've been in physics and engineering for the past 13 years, in both the US and the UK. This figure, while sad, doesn't surprise me at all. While I agree there are many contributing factors that make it difficult for women - not being given as challenging tasks as their male counterparts, difficulties with balancing family and career, etc - the core of the issue goes back to school. I was always raised and encouraged to study science and math by my teachers and parents; the issue of being a woman in these fields did not seem daunting or negative to me in my early years of learning and deciding this path. However, for many young girls, I don't think this is the case. If we want to see more women in science and engineering, many factors WILL have to change - such as making it easier to balance family and work, equal pay, etc. But there needs to be a start of more women going into the industry to begin with - and that happens at a young age, inspiring and encouraging young girls and women. Part of that for me personally is continuing in my field (I now work in the energy industry as an analyst) and being a role model in as much of a way that I can.
  • Posted Sat 17 Dec 2016 01:09 pm GMT
So I think there are many reasons for the lack of females in Engineering to date:
- Gender profiling of children - children's clothing, activities, games, toys etc. Even the gym classes and sports I played in school were different. This difference creates a gender divide from early on which sets children up to go on to be more likely to develop certain interests and thus careers based on gender. There's also a preference to teach e.g. physics or maths using examples of 'male stereotype' interests - calculating the trajectories of missiles, planes, cars etc. Why not break down the stereotype of girls in the kitchen, boys in the physics lab by exploring concepts like heat transfer + conduction and chemical reactions etc. through cooking? See: https://www.edx.org/course/science-cooking-haute-cuisine-soft-harvardx-spu27-1x or https://www.coursera.org/learn/gastronomy for inspiration. As a guy that's passionate about science/engineering and food I think this would be a great idea - plus you'd be able to eat the results of your experiments!
- Suitable role models - this can be anything from parents, to friends, teachers, celebrities and role models in industry - this is a big issue because the lack of females in engineering IS REAL, so it's not a false perception that girls have when they consider Engineering to be a male dominated career path.
- The way university Engineering courses are advertised - seem to appeal to male stereotypes - pictures of fast cars, planes, fighter jets, big powerful machinery, oil rigs etc. I find this off putting. I think we should focus advertising engineering as a career path that inspires and that teaches you the tools to practically find solutions to the worlds many problems - finding clean energy, improving agricultural efficiency, managing overpopulation, delivering humanitarian relief and fresh water etc. rather than contributing to it by extracting oil out the ground, finding ways to burn it rapidly and bomb other countries, more effectively etc. I have a perhaps biased preconception that the first list may appeal to females more, but I guess in general this would be a good approach because we'd have more of the right sort of both males and females applying.
- The way industry careers are advertised - seem to appeal to male stereotypes - as above. This can actually be worse, as these were more likely to be produced by a male dominated engineering company.
- Women being primary caregiver assumption as discussed by Michelle and Adam above. This is compounded by Engineering careers often being characterized with a lot of hard work, long hours and constant accumulation of knowledge - sometimes boasted about with a certain level of masochistic one-upman(/woman)ship. I have colleagues that feel bad about taking time off to go on courses or even take their holiday - I have first hand accounts of this being even worse in the US. This doesn't lend itself to taking time off to look after a family (although if maternity/paternity leave was more equal then this issue would be something faced by both men or women looking to start a family - currently it affects women more though.
- Poor female to male work participation ratio anyway (68% globally and 81% UK: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.CACT.FM.ZS) - important to remember there are other countries outside the UK and obviously these people matter too. When you have less females in the employment pool in total, it immediately makes things harder. This is for a range of issues which are different for the developing world e.g. religion, education opportunities, sexist ideologies and even things as basic as poor sanitation facilities in school and at workplaces. https://www.unicef.org/education/index_focus_water.html
- Male bravado around engineering and being fairly dismissive in terms of the inherent complexity of the systems and mechanics/structures/technology they deal with and the statistics, numbers and units around these. E.g. "yeah it's a 2 litre turbocharged four cylinder in-line, so yeah... clearly produces around the same horse power as a Peugeot 208 GTi, yeah yeah". No. Often the people that speak like this can't really explain how the systems work if you probe a bit and ask them to break it down. There's so much that could be done better in engineering if people dropped their guards and spoke more openly about what they didn't understand and took more time to share and pass on knowledge, rather than hoard it. I feel like this is a bit of a male issue and trying to be the alpha-expert in the room and actually perhaps females are more open to saying "no I don't fully understand, could you explain that aspect in more detail please?" which is actually much more conducive to learning things and becoming a great engineer. It's also much more constructive for building effective teams, which are more preferable than a few strong individuals.
- Narrow minds within engineering companies about how to diversify work practices to include roles that may be more attractive to female candidates or may be attractive to a skill set which features an improved female/male ratio relative to conventional engineering degrees/specialties. I think this is one that I'm particularly interested in as there are a lot of tasks to be done which don't require an engineering degree and actually a fresh perspective could be beneficial. As way of example - a lot of engineering requires effective communication of information, data, processes or understanding - a very effective method of communication is through drawings/diagrams/infographics etc. - so if engineering companies were a bit forward thinking and innovative, they could introduce departments of graphical design/animation etc for conveying this information or embed such talents within engineering teams - I'd be willing to bet if you advertised good salary roles in graphic design, you'd get applicants with an improved female/make ratio. The only issue is companies putting their money where their mouth is, ignoring perceived costs and actually seeing the benefit this could bring. It would then improve bullet point 2, without having to wait for targeted children to make it through school and university before you see the gender gap decrease.
- I also think if engineering companies improved their social conscience in terms of sustainability, the environment, corporate ethics, supporting local communities and arts etc. this could have a positive impact on female recruitment and retention.

There's a lot to do - but plenty of opportunity!
  • Posted Mon 19 Dec 2016 08:52 am GMT
Great points All :)

There is a lot of focus on getting the next generation of young girls interested in STEM careers. Whilst this is a great thing, this discounts a lot of working-age women. I loved maths and science when I was at school, but it wasn't until I was in my late 20s that I met my first engineer, and had no idea what engineering was all about before then. You can't pick something as a career if you don't know it is an option, and I think many women of my generation and earlier may have lost out because of this.

Career breaks and child-care have been raised above as problems keeping women out of the engineering industry, but might career breaks also offer a solution? If a part-time, re-training course was available, perhaps more working-age women who were looking at returning to work from other industries might be tempted to enter the field?

Looking at groups of women from other industries might also offer a solution. 40% of teachers are leaving their profession in the first year (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/11505837/Four-in-10-new-teachers-quit-within-a-year-union-warns.html). The majority of teachers are female. Nurses are leaving their profession too (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/jun/25/the-other-nhs-crisis-the-overworked-nurses-who-are-leaving-in-despair). The majority of nurses are also female. Perhaps advertising engineering careers/courses in NUT or NHS newsletters might be a way to access smart women who are ready for a career change and would be happy to re-train for a career in engineering?

Of course, one of the barriers to retraining working women would be the financial side (giving up a wage and the cost of studying), so perhaps an investment in training bursaries would be needed in order to facilitate this.

I think that more companies should offer part-time hours or job-share options as returning to work full time is a big factor that deters women in particular from going back to work or being able to retrain in other areas (NB. This is an issue in all industries, not a problem exclusive to the engineering industry). Full-time study can be prohibitively expensive (whether you are returning to work after having children, or just deciding to embark on a new career), so having part-time study options would also help to appeal to more people so the students may continue to earn enough money as they re-train.
  • Posted Tue 20 Dec 2016 12:24 pm GMT

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