Female engineer apprentices have to “prove” themselves

Posted on 4 Sep 2018 by Maddy White

Gender disparity in engineering, manufacturing and STEM careers continues to be blatantly apparent. An award-winning female apprentice feels she has to prove herself; if industry is prejudice at such an early stage, how can diversity and gender balance ever improve?

Maria Collins and Charles Bamford (both IMI Precision Engineering) - image courtesy of IMI Precision Engineering.
Maria Collins and Charles Bamford (both IMI Precision Engineering) – image courtesy of IMI Precision Engineering.

A-level and GCSE results days were last month, and almost a third of students aged 18 will head to university straight away. Comparatively, according to EEF, only 7% of students after their A-levels will complete an apprenticeship. 

If young women feel they have to prove themselves in industry, figures will not improve, apprenticeships will not be undertaken and gender disparity will never be eliminated.

The Manufacturer spoke to Maria Collins, who is encouraging school-leavers to consider more vocational routes, but also acknowledges the gender disparity in the industry she is headed.

Collins who is completing a three-year apprenticeship in mechanical engineering at IMI Precision Engineering, and who is also shortlisted for The Manufacturer MX Awards 2018 in the category, Young Manufacturer of the Year said: “At the beginning it was hard to adjust. I had to work extra hard because I was a girl, to prove myself.”

Are you hoping in the future female engineers won’t have to prove themselves?

“Absolutely. It disappoints me massively that that is even an issue, it shouldn’t be but for some reason it is, we have to keep fighting for equality.”

Including a more diverse workforce in STEM, manufacturing and engineering careers remains vital to the progress of not just these, but all industries.

Gender diversity is crucial and the disparity within work forces in these sectors is, as heard in The Manufacturer’s Women & Diversity in Manufacturing Summit, painfully evident.

Collins believes role models will be key to improving gender diversity, she said: “I think for women to see other women working in industry, is necessary, but at the same time for men to see women being in industry is great because then they can understand women can do these jobs just as well as they can.

Professional female engineers in UK by %
Professional female engineers in UK by %.

“When I first started my apprenticeship, I was the only female student in the whole of the programme. For the boys my age, it wasn’t really an issue, it was the older generation who differentiated me. The longer I was there though, the more I proved to them, ‘look I can do it just as well as the boys can.’”

Collins does not regret her apprenticeship and has thoroughly enjoyed it, as she explained that working in industry allowed her to work alongside many different people she wouldn’t have had to at uni, as well as building up her career.

Of course, no one should have to prove themself based on their gender though, and the gender disparity in engineering, manufacturing remains glaringly clear. The industry needs to nurture and retain women in the sector, not push them out.

Collins has been shortlisted for Young Manufacturer of the Year as part of this year’s The Manufacturer MX Awards – the largest annual celebration of UK manufacturing: