A Career in Engineering: The Future for Women
Engineering and wider STEM industries need women. That’s a fact. Not only to diversify workforces in order to identify more innovative solutions to the complex problems we face but also just to have a chance of tackling ever worsening skills shortages that are affecting productivity, profitability and competitiveness in the field.
Considering we need at least another 200,000 engineers every year, its important now than ever to see the issue of gender imbalance as a top priority. So what do I think the issues are around this? Well, part of it is that the portrayal of engineering is still male dominated and the environment can be portrayed as somewhat daunting for a woman.
The truth of it is, engineering is a dream job for many. You get the chance to work with some of the most curious and brilliant minds as well as having access to cutting-edge advancements in the way things work and what is possible. Most importantly, you get the opportunity to solve problems that can result in a positive impact for so many people and earn a good living whilst doing it.
With a large emphasis on the more masculine side which includes the machinery, equipment and the ‘raw’ part of what engineering is, the appeal to a lot of women is unfortunately lost. As it has predominantly been a male dominated industry a lot of the marketing has been male-led aimed at males, which means 50% of the population doesn’t feel like it’s being spoken to.
I do think times are changing and the world is slowly waking up to the potential of a more balanced workforce. Companies, individuals and STEM outreach charities are working hard to showcase the diversity engineering has to offer. You are seeing female engineers in advertisements, hearing their stories and being shown that there is no reason to think girls cannot pursue a successful, rewarding career in engineering.
Is this enough? I think the way in which engineering is communicated to young people is another key factor when creating a more balanced industry. I recently read an article about how the President of Ashesi University in Africa has achieved a near even split of girls and boys on his Computer Science programme by changing the way the university communicates engineering to young people. He said talking about how problem solving in engineering can help or improve the lives of others or the environment we live in really resonates with girls. In a culture that can still make girls think they need to be more caring, nurturing and concerned for others as a stereotype, approaching engineering in this way, and in conjunction with the more traditional approach, would ensure that it appeals to both masculine and feminine ideologies.
The People Like Me solution was created by WISE (2015) in response to research which showed that girls are more likely to create and articulate their self-identity using adjectives. A lot of the descriptions of engineering jobs contain many verbs and talk about what you will be doing but they don’t tend to talk about what type of person would be good for the role. Putting more of an emphasis about the personal qualities that a career in engineering would suit, such as curious or methodical, would mean that many more women and girls could see themselves in the field.
In short I think there is a bright future for women in engineering ahead. I would like there to be a day where I am not known as a female engineer because it is something that lies outside of the norm. I hope that the work that’s being done today will mean myself and other women within the field can join our male counterparts in being defined by what we do, without the need for gender to come before it.