When and how should we promote engineering careers to young females?

women looking at laptop

While researching this blog I thought I’d ask Google ‘what type of engineering girls/women like’. I was hoping to get some insight in to which areas of engineering might interest girls. Instead, I came across an article on the ‘7 reasons to date an engineer’. Despite modifying my search, there was depressingly little about inspiring young girls to become engineers.

But why do I care? One of the reasons I’m writing this blog is because the Women’s Engineering Society (WES)  has an initiative called ‘Men as Allies’, which encourages men to play their part in raising awareness of the gender imbalance within engineering. The other reason is that one of our specialist areas is engineering and sadly, there just aren’t enough engineers to meet demand. EngineeringUK’s ‘The State of Engineering’ 2017 report concludes that there is an annual shortfall of at least 20,000 graduates for engineering.

As it stands, only 9% of engineers in the UK are women and as the industry desperately needs more engineers, targeting about 50% of our population seems like a good place to start. There are a small number of, mostly underfunded, but dedicated men and women who have been desperately trying to attract more women in to engineering.

Before writing this blog, I read various articles, listened to debates and talked to women who are not engineers. The articles and debates seemed to focus on why so few girls choose engineering at all, why so few choose STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects and instead, why so many young girls want to be a vet, want to be creative or be involved in vocations that will help the world become a better place. It seemed that many of the women I spoke to were not aware of the opportunities available to them in engineering until it was too late and some were still not aware.

My view is that we are not doing enough to target girls at a young enough age to consider a career in engineering, and that maybe we are not selling engineering as well as we could. If we haven’t provided a compelling reason why a young girl should choose engineering as a career by the time she is 13, in all likelihood, she will never enter the profession. Once a young girl has made her GCSE choices, it’s difficult for her to change course - especially if she hasn’t chosen STEM subjects.

If we want to bring more women in to engineering then we need to modify our approach. We need to re-think how we promote engineering as a career, focusing on the creative side, the search for new ideas and solving real world problems. We must share real stories of engineers making the world a better place to live and showcase how, as an engineer, you can really make a difference.

But maybe selling the opportunities available to young girls is just one part of the solution. There are fantastic opportunities available in engineering to work on interesting projects, earn an excellent salary, innovate and help make the world a better place. Never mind our daughters; do parents, teachers and careers advisers know that? If not, we should make sure they do because if they are not bought in to engineering then who is going to give our daughters the chance to pursue it as a career? Are we going to carry on leaving it to the small number of people who care?

The advice available to me at school from my teachers and the careers officer, admittedly many years ago now, and then to my son decades later, was very poor. We need to ensure parents, teachers and careers services are equipped to signpost engineering as an option. Some companies and organisations are already spreading the word but we need more people involved and focus a little more on the younger generation.  Ideally, we should be engaging girls in engineering before they reach secondary school.

When we talk about engineering, do we focus a little too much on automotive, rail, aerospace and structures such as bridges and buildings? Should we be broadening our conversations to focus on why engineering matters? Should we share more stories about the innovations engineers have made in medical devices, artificial limbs, new ways to produce energy, how they can help the next generation and what they can do to help countries suffering from the effects of global warming?

Fortunately, organisations like WES are raising awareness of the lack of female engineers and carry out campaigns targeted at encouraging young girls to consider a career in engineering. The UK government is also keen to establish a more secure and diverse engineering talent pipeline. Next year it’s launching a campaign called the ‘Year of Engineering’, with a main aim being to encourage more girls to become engineers. I’ll look forward to seeing this campaign in action and seeing the benefits it brings to creating a more diverse engineering workforce.

As a man myself, I’m not sure that I am best placed to advise on the most interesting subjects for young girls, but it does look as if the way we sell engineering at the moment isn’t inspiring the female population as much as it could.

What do you think could be done to promote engineering as a career choice?

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