There are now over 50,000 women in engineering professional roles in the UK – almost double the number a decade ago. However, the number of women in tech roles has flatlined at 16 per cent since 2009. The industry has a clear role to play in managing this disconnect and encouraging women to consider a career in engineering.
This is why days such as International Women in Engineering Day are so important. Not only is it a day for women to recognise and reflect on their success, it also provides the industry with the opportunity to make sure it continues to engage women and put measures in place to support their entry into engineering and other STEM roles.
The root of the problem
Women still only account for just over 10 per cent of engineering professionals. According to Sara Boddy, Senior Director, F5 Labs: “There’s no denying that engineering and technology is a male dominated industry. In my experience growing up, computers simply weren’t something many girls were interested in, perhaps because they weren’t marketed that way. I still think we're in a situation where computers and gaming are still very sexist worlds. I mention gaming specifically because that's how a lot of kids get passionate about computers. They've got gaming consoles and iPads and they want to figure out how they work, or they build their own gaming server. These products are still not being designed or marketed with girls in mind, and I think that contributes to a lack of interest on the female side.”
This is a thought echoed by Ellie Barrett, Global Alliances Manager, Natterbox, who like many other women, fell into a career in technology rather than being encouraged into it. “I started in a recruitment role, and it was only then that I had a first glimpse into all of the opportunities that are available in the technology and engineering industries – ones that I had never heard of before. Although excited at the prospect of finding out about this new technology world, I also became frustrated at the lack of education I had received about it from a younger age, at an important time in my life when it was expected that I decide what subjects I’d like to take and which career I might venture into.”
So, what’s the answer to this problem?
Overcoming the gender gap
Sara believes the answer lies in finding ways to tell interesting stories about what this industry does. “We need to drive early involvement at state and local school level. More details about how cybersecurity makes an impact on the world would excite and inspire kids to get into the sector. It may be a while before we start seeing significant differences in terms of gender balance within the industry at all levels, but I’m positive that change is coming. With girls in primary school now learning coding, I’m hopeful we’ll have a more level playing field in years to come.”
For Ellie, the solution is through early education in school. “It’s important that other people get the opportunity to learn about technology at an earlier stage in their life alongside other industries and career opportunities. This needs to start with educational organisations and the careers advice offered to students. But it’s not just about women, this is about exposing children to all of the opportunities that are available to them. We need to educate younger generations on how exciting technology is. It powers the world around us and the things that we interact with almost every day, from our mobile phones, to contactless credit cards – all the things that we take for granted.”
She also believes businesses have a key part to play. “Businesses should offer diversity initiatives and specifically ‘Women in Technology’ meet-ups, initiatives, and groups. I’ve been lucky enough to see a change in these kinds of events from only women attending, to also seeing male allies attending and supporting diversity in the industry. I’m also proud to work for a company that has a larger than average proportion of women working in technical roles. But examples like this are still way too few and far between – seeing women in technical roles shouldn’t be unusual, and it’s on us to make sure it becomes the norm.”
Creating a welcoming environment
Aine is currently participating in the Civica Potential programme, a leadership course that will also provide her with a qualification. “Taking this course is allowing me to develop skills such as time management, conflict resolution, and managing a budget. These skills will be hugely beneficial in equipping me to take on leadership and mentoring roles in the future and ensuring I can continue to support young professionals entering the industry.”
Women should also feel empowered in the workplace, and Natasha Kiroska, Solutions Engineer at IPsoft believes this can be achieved through a number of ways. “Ladies entering the profession should follow their passion and their dreams, believe in themselves, and work hard at the same time. They should gravitate only towards people, professionals, and companies that will appreciate their work and contributions, and will give them the chance to grow and prove themselves. They shouldn’t feel intimidated by anyone else’s behaviour, as we all come from different cultures and backgrounds. Finally, they should always remain professional, take every opportunity that comes their way, and enjoy their amazing STEM journey.”
International Women in Engineering Day provides women in the industry with a day to celebrate their successes, but it should also be a reminder of how much more work there is to be done to increase the number of roles held by women across the sector. From ensuring young people are educated on a career in engineering in school, all the way through to creating a nurturing working environment, the responsibility is on everyone to make sure more women consider a career in engineering.