Women are significantly underrepresented in engineering. The industry must increase engagement from a young age to diversify our workforce.
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Engineering makes a significant contribution to the UK economy. In 2015 it generated 25 percent of the UK’s total GDP (£420.5 billion).1 It is therefore essential that we support this industry by supplying both investment and talent in order to enhance its growth and continue to compete with global organisations. Whilst the UK has a strong history of success in engineering, this alone cannot be relied upon to maintain the industry, and without a ready supply of resources, there is always the risk that UK based organisations will move abroad. Earlier this year, Dyson announced that it will be moving its head office to Singapore and, whilst this may be due to the current political landscape, it is clearly more important than ever that we support both new and existing engineering companies to retain and build the industry. One very important consideration is the supply of qualified people to fulfil the wide variety of roles associated with engineering. According to Engineering UK, the annual shortfall of people with the right engineering skills was as high as 59,000 in 2018.1 We must therefore encourage more people to pursue careers in engineering and reach out to new avenues of previously untapped potential.
One major group currently underrepresented in engineering is women. Although women made up almost half of the UK workforce in 2016, they only comprised just over 20 percent of those working in the engineering industry. This proportion was even lower, just 12 percent, when only core engineering roles were considered.1 When looking at ways to recruit more women into these roles, it is important to consider the reasons this gap exists in the first place. Over the years, many factors have contributed including the perception that engineering is a man’s field, a lack of female role models, and the reputation for working environments that are unwelcoming to women. Without active campaigns to overcome these issues, they are likely to self-perpetuate.
One key finding from the report by Engineering UK, is that it is crucial to get women and girls interested from an early age. The report showed that there is a significant drop off (21 percent) in girls considering careers in engineering between the ages of 11 and 18 (46.4 percent of 11-14 year old girls vs. 25.4 percent of 16-18 year olds would consider a career in engineering).1 Traditionally, recruitment campaigns for engineering companies have focussed on those in further and higher education but there is a clear need to target this demographic earlier to keep them engaged with the industry as a whole. Some examples of organisations already coordinating successful campaigns in this area include the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), the WISE campaign, and Women in Stem among others.
As part of their drive to recruit and retain more female engineers, The Women’s Engineering Society (WES) launched the National Women in Engineering Day in the UK in 2014. Following its success and international involvement, International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) was launched in 2017. WES organises its own events to promote women in engineering as well as encouraging and supporting organisations of all levels (government, educational, corporate etc) to arrange events around the day.
Watson-Marlow Fluid Technology Group (WMFTG), a global expert in fluid path engineering, has celebrated INWED since its launch in 2017 and this year organised an event in partnership with Goonhilly Earth Station in Cornwall. The event brought together a number of female industry professionals and local school children to demonstrate the exciting opportunities in STEM careers and provide a networking opportunity for local professionals.
One such female engineer was Rachel Pallett, WMFTG Regional Sales Director – Europe, Middle East and Africa. She shared her reasons for pursuing a career in engineering and the variety of roles available: “I have always been fascinated by why and how things work, where and how they are made. For me, engineering was the perfect combination of the wonder of pure science and the practicality of getting real things designed and made. It is so important that we attract and retain talent in engineering by demonstrating the enormous variety of interesting and exciting career paths that STEM education opens up.”
The continued growth and success of initiatives such as INWED demonstrates a clear appetite for greater engagement in STEM, and there has already been some success. The proportion of women in professional engineering roles in the UK has increased by 3 percent since 2016.2 Despite this, the proportion of women studying engineering subjects at an undergraduate level has remained pretty much constant since 2012.2 It is clear therefore that there is still a significant need for engagement activities and an active effort from companies to increase inclusivity. This is not only beneficial from a general fairness perspective, but also makes financial sense. Diversity, not only of gender but of age, culture, experience and expertise, has been shown to build a stronger workforce. A report from McKinsey demonstrates that companies are much more likely to perform better if they are diverse, both in gender and race/ethnicity.3
To provide the talent needed to sustain and grow the UK engineering industry, it is essential we attract more women. The UK has one of the lowest proportions of female engineering professionals in Europe so if we hope to remain a leader in global engineering, even after Brexit, it is essential we change that and fully maximise the potential of young women.4 Companies are in a prime position to lead the charge and will reap the benefits for themselves, while boosting the industry as a whole.
Dr Sade Mokuolu is Group Product Compliance Manager at Watson-Marlow Fluid Technology Group (WMFTG). Prior to joining WMFTG, she was employed at Pall Life Sciences as European Technical Manager for Analytical Chemistry, providing technical direction on extractables and leachables (E&L) studies of single use systems. She has presented at international conferences on E&L testing on behalf of the Bio-Process Systems Alliance (BPSA), as well as delivered training to the TGA, the Australian regulatory agency and European GMP inspectors. Additionally, she has extensive pharmaceutical manufacturing experience gained whilst employed by SAFC and Aesica Pharma as a Senior Process, Research and Development Chemist. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Sussex and a doctorate in organometallic chemistry from the University of Nottingham. Her first ever post was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Leeds.
Joanne Lucas, Group Marketing PR Coordinator
Watson-Marlow Fluid Technology Group
Joanne.Lucas@wmftg.com / https://www.wmftg.com/
- Engineering UK 2018: The state of engineering Synopsis and Statistics, Engineering UK, 2018, https://www.engineeringuk.com/media/1576/7444_enguk18_synopsis_standalone_aw.pdf
- Talent 2030 Dashboard 2018, National Centre for Universities and Business, 2018, http://www.ncub.co.uk/reports/talent-2030-dashboard-2018
- Vivian Hunt, Dennis Layton and Sara Prince, Why diversity matters, McKinsey, 2015 updated 2018, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters
- Jemima Kiss, Vince Cable says UK economy hampered by lack of female engineers, The Guardian, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/nov/04/vince-cable-uk-economy-female-engineers