Parents restricting girls’ futures

Posted on 30 Mar 2015 by Victoria Fitzgerald

Only 7% of parents would encourage their female children to pursue a career in engineering, according to research released today by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

The study suggests that parents could be limiting their child’s future career decisions with outdated perceptions of the jobs they think boys and girls are interested in.

The research marks the launch of the institution’s Engineer a Better World campaign, a programme from the IET designed to inspire more parents to encourage their children to become engineers.

Parents of girls stated that their child would be most interested in pursuing a career in education and childcare (32%), the arts (29%), healthcare (26%) and hair and beauty (23%). In contrast, parents of boys stated that they thought Information technology (47%), sport (33%) and engineering (28%) were all sectors that would appeal to their child.

When asked about which subjects they enjoy at school, STEM subjects (science, design and technology, ICT/computing and maths) topped the list for children, particularly ICT/computing which was enjoyed by more than half (52%) of the children interviewed. Although slightly less fond of STEM subjects than boys, 39% of girls said they enjoyed ICT/computing, with the same percentage also enjoying design and technology. Among STEM subjects, 38% of children said they enjoyed Maths, with a further 36% saying they also enjoyed Science.

Nuclear AMRC welding apprentice Sam Biddleston. The Nuclear AMRC is part of the host venue for the Global Manufacturing Festival 2013
Girls are reportedly twice as likely to say they are not interested in a career in STEM.

Yet even though STEM subjects seem to be popular among girls, only 6% of the engineering workforce in the UK is actually female.

As part of the research, IET also explored the perceptions of the engineering profession amongst parents and their children. When asked what they knew about engineering, 54% of children stated that they didn’t know anything about careers in the industry. When it comes to their interest in pursuing a career in engineering, girls are twice as likely than boys to say that they are not interested in finding out about careers in engineering (11% vs. 5%).

Furthermore, two in five parents (41%) said if asked by their child for advice about a career in engineering, they feel they wouldn’t know enough to support them. This figure is even higher among the parents of girls, with almost half (44%) saying they don’t know enough about engineering to help.

As part of its research, IET also gave parents and children some information on the exciting careers available in the engineering sector. After seeing a little information on some of the careers available, both parents and children were much more interested in what the sector had to offer. In fact, 72% of parents agreed that they would encourage their child to pursue engineering as a career – an increase of 30% of respondents before having seen the information.

In addition, before being more informed, fewer than half of those parents with girls would encourage their daughter to pursue engineering. Having seen the information this figure rose from 45% up to 67% – an increase of almost 50%. The figure also rose substantially among girls themselves rising from 32% up to 61% – a very substantial rise of 90%.

William Webb, IET president, said: “STEM subjects form the backbone of the engineering industry and help it to continue growing and innovating. We see clearly from this research that girls do have a genuine interest in these areas but this doesn’t translate to the number of women entering the engineering industry. The data from our research clearly shows a need to engage better with girls and their parents about the importance of STEM subjects and the world of opportunities they can open up for young people in the engineering industry.

“The research also shows that there is a growing need to change perceptions of what modern engineering is and what it can offer girls in terms of a career.

“The key to doing this is by changing the perceptions of parents who are highly influential in their child’s decision making processes and showing them that engineering doesn’t have to be a messy, mechanical or physically demanding career choice.

“In order to do this, IET has joined with a number of industry stakeholders to develop the Engineer a Better World campaign, which looks to engage with parents and their children about the exciting career opportunities that engineering has to offer.

“It’s only by making the right resources and information available that we can ensure the engineering sector of the future has the rich and diverse mix of talent it needs to carry on growing and innovating.”

Paul Jackson, chief executive of Engineering UK, said: “As a community we need to overcome negative and/or outdated perceptions of engineering to encourage ‎more young people to consider it as a career option.

“Campaigns such as Engineer a Better World help showcase the range of fantastic opportunities offered by engineering and crucially, give parents the information and tools they need to support the potential engineers of the future.”

Check out the campaign video here.