Engineering And Gender Diversity: Have We Made Progress?

Is engineering becoming a more diverse sector? It’s long been the case that British engineering, and in fact, engineering across the globe, hasn’t been known for the gender diversity in its workforce. Traditionally considered a very male dominated industry, today there’s still only around 11% of engineering roles in the UK held by women. It might not sound much, and it isn’t - but it is, in fact, progress.

Engineering And Gender Diversity: Have We Made Progress?

...we’re suddenly looking at a sector that could be staring down the barrel of stalling innovation

Why gender diversity in engineering makes sense

The number of female professional engineers has more than doubled in the past five years. It’s taken a lot of work so far, and with good reason; there’s a pretty strong business case as to why reducing the gender imbalance in engineering should continue to be a priority for the industry. To put it simply, if you want a strong financial performance as a business, you need to pay diversity some serious attention. Your business is 15% more likely to have financial returns above industry average, if your business is in the top quartile for gender diversity. That’s a pretty strong correlation between diversity and performance. Businesses that sit in the bottom quartile for gender diversity are far less likely to achieve above average financial returns.

Why does gender diversity make an impact?

When the STEM setor in general is facing a skills shortage, ruling out half the talent pool because women aren't attracted to the roles is a pretty significant reduction in options. Add to the fact that diverse teams are more creative and productive, and we’re suddenly looking at a sector that could be staring down the barrel of stalling innovation. But why are diverse teams more innovative? If you’re only generating and developing ideas from the same type of people, with similar experiences and background, you’re never having someone look at challenges from a different perspective. You might find people agree a lot - and you’re missing out on the people who can come in and see a different solution, or maybe even see a different problem altogether.

Why is the gender gap in engineering so large?

A problem with attracting women to the sector seems to start pretty early on in life, with boys already viewing engineering more positively than girls even in primary school. By the time they reach 16 to 18 years old, only 25% of girls would even consider a career in engineering in comparison to almost 52% of boys. We’ve traditionally made women feel like the STEM sector is a man’s world. Given that in all STEM A-Levels except Chemistry, more girls get A*-C grades than boys (including ICT, Design & Technology, Maths and Further Maths), that’s certainly an impression we shouldn’t be giving our young women. Continue to higher education, and while 74.6% of male students will achieve a first class or upper-second class degree, almost 80% of their female student colleagues are achieving those same results. So when it comes to capability, there’s no question that female engineers are cutting the mustard.

It’s true that we’ve made progress during the past five years in attracting higher numbers of women into the engineering roles. But with a skills shortage currently costing the UK STEM sector £1.5 billion annually, maybe we need to do it faster.

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