A significant amount of research has been conducted into the reasons for poor representation of women in the engineering profession. These studies have often focused, unsurprisingly, on two stages of life: education and employment.
The metaphor of the ‘leaky pipeline’ has been used to illustrate the fact that women leave the profession in larger proportions than men, or more worryingly, often never make the transition from education to an engineering role in the workplace.
The discourse has often reflected on this metaphor to explore the causes of this disparity with a particular focus on women studying for engineering qualifications, but has the leaky pipeline really been ‘fixed’?
Earlier this year, the IET’s Women in STEM Statistics 2015 revealed that only 6% of the engineering workforce in the UK is female, compared with Sweden (almost 25%) and France and Denmark (20%) (EU labour force Survey).
Sadly, this issue is still arguably rooted in how the sector is presented to children and can begin in primary and secondary education. Young people are often taught about the achievements of great men, as the engineering narrative of the past has been mainly been presented that way, with the engineering achievements of women not being as prominent a feature in the ‘traditional’ curriculum.
This is by no means a problem that is only specific to engineering; there are still battles to promote the recognition of women in sectors such as science, technology and even medicine. There needs to be a shift in this in order to begin to break down the gender stereotypes that begin at a young age, before they begin to filter up to tertiary education and employment.
According to statistics from the Women’s Engineering Society, only 51% of female STEM graduates actually go on to work in STEM roles after university, compared with 68% of male STEM graduates, which illustrates the scale of the still-existing problem.
That being said, there are real efforts being made to change this and champion the recognition of women in the sector.
Dame Sue Ion FREng, nuclear engineer and chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering, recently said that she’d like to see more women in the profession stepping up and celebrating their work.
In addition to this, the government relaxation of the ELQ policy – which enables people resident in England who already hold an honours degree or higher level qualification to apply for tuition fee loans from Student Finance England and undertake another course leading to an Honours degree in engineering or technology – provides another chance to improve the gender balance in the sector.
By providing the opportunity for women to retrain as engineers after completing their first degree course, there is a higher chance of tapping into talent of different generations, which is a positive step in reclaiming the talent that the previous surveys mentioned has been lost after graduation.
>See also: Where are all the women in engineering?
To say that the leaky pipeline is well and truly fixed is to jump the gun at this stage, but this change to the rules provides a fresh opportunity to make a real change at an exciting and dynamic time for the gender rebalance.
This, and recent changes like the establishment of National Women in Engineering Day, a day dedicated to raising the profile of, and celebrating women in engineering, spells new great things for the sector, and it’s exciting to see the positive change that this diversity is going to have on not only the sector, but the economy as a whole.
Sourced from Jan Kowal, the Open University