Winner of the 2014 Women’s Engineering Society Award Prize, Lucy Ackland, Project Manager at Renishaw, shares her thoughts on the challenges women in engineering face in 2015.
“National Women in Engineering Day is an appropriate time to reflect on the current number of women in engineering. Figures from the IET and Engineering UK state that our nation has the lowest proportion of female engineers in Europe, at just 6%, compared to leading countries with 30%.
If this continues the UK will be unable to find the 1.820,000 people with engineering skills that employers will need by 2022. In my opinion there are three main factors that cause the low percentage,” Ackland says.
“Firstly there is the shocking fact that 46% of schools in England did not send a single girl on to study A-level physics in 2011 (Institute of Physics). The ambassadorial position I have been embracing has enabled me to talk to a large number of girls between the ages of 14 and 17, and the message I keep hearing is ‘I’m no good at science’. The challenge is to find ways of empowering these girls to believe in themselves.”
Although, updated figures from the EEF say the number of girls gaining physics GCSE A to C is now almost equal to the number of boys. But despite this, still less than 20% of A-level physics students are girls – in other words they’re dropping the subject while boys carry on.
“Secondly, in some organisations the over representation of males in the workplace can create ‘boys clubs’ and therefore not always a comfortable place for a woman to be. It is rare to see much obvious discrimination or people openly trying to make women feel uncomfortable in their position, but we need to work harder to create an inclusive working environment that everyone feels comfortable to be a part of,” Ackland stresses.
In this case, her point is backed by recent EEF stats, that confirm that while just over half (51%) of female Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates go into STEM roles, this rises to 68% among male STEM graduates.
“Thirdly, it has been estimated that 22,000 qualified women have not returned to the engineering sector after a maternity or career break. This is a huge number considering how few women actually work in engineering. These are trained engineers that we can ill afford to lose when facing such a drastic skills shortage. What can businesses do to be more flexible when it comes to working hours and childcare for men and women alike?” asks Ackland.
On workforce and skills shortage, Verity O’Keefe, Senior Employment and Skills Policy Advisor at EEF, said: “Manufacturers need to find almost one million workers by 2020 simply to replace those retiring or leaving industry. This is a huge challenge and why, by 2020, we want to see the number of UK engineering graduates increased by 25% and a 25% increase in the number of apprentices completing engineering and manufacturing apprenticeships.”
To further encourage women, she added: “National Women in Engineering Day is about raising awareness of the opportunities and inspiring more young women to seriously consider a career in engineering. It’s also a timely reminder to Government, industry and educators to ensure that every effort is made to encourage young women to aim high and to nurture their ambitions.”