WOMANufacturing

Diversity in STEM "progressing too slowly" – Report

Coming off the back of International Women’s Day last month, Victoria Fitzgerald takes a look at some of the young women looking to make waves in the UK manufacturing world.

Inspiring change was the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day held last month and with the UK currently experiencing the lowest percentage of women in manufacturing roles in the EU, it is evident that now is the time for that change to happen.

Women represent a mere 8.7% of engineering professionals in the UK, compared to 26% in Sweden and 29% in Bulgaria. More concerning is the fact these numbers have remained
consistent since 2011.

School-aged girls are less likely to study STEM subjects at GCSE, this trend continues through A-level and usually these subjects are a prerequisite for studying engineering at university or embarking on an apprenticeship in a manufacturing discipline.

However, the gender gap is not passing unnoticed. Initiatives are appearing across Britain to inspire young women to pursue STEM subjects and drive them into manufacturing roles.

Attainment of boys and girls

In January, trade association British Glass launched Women in Manufacturing, an action aimed at uniting education, government and industry to raise awareness of well-paid, fulfilling jobs within the sector and to push a cultural shift through education to eliminate gender stereotyping from school to industry.

Profiles

British Glass CEO Dave Dalton said: “Modern manufacturing and engineering is a technologically advanced and innovative sector in which to work, however young girls and women are not inspired to take up STEM related studying or careers.

“Initiatives like this are crucial in helping to dispel preconceived ideas about the reality of jobs in engineering and manufacturing, and to encourage the next generation of women to consider these sectors as a possible career.”

In addition, Cranfield University, producers of the Female FTSE Report since 1999, in collaboration with EEF released the first FTSE 100 – Women in Manufacturing in 2013, to identify opportunities and successes available to women in the modern manufacturing workplace, while highlighting female role models in the industry. The 2014 report was released at the end of March.

Ciara Norris

Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon from the University of Sheffield champions women in manufacturing and is instrumental in the university’s efforts to influence policy and work with schools to raise the profile of women in manufacturing. Rodriguez-Falcon told TM: “During the Second World War, women were bombarded with posters telling them they could succeed in manufacturing. After the war the promotions disappeared and they were expected to return to the home. Many of them didn’t want to.

“Young women are currently lacking career guidance and positive role models from the sector. We need to change the culture and influence media, but we can’t do this on our own.”

Born in Mexico, Rodriguez-Falcon’s goal was to help people and she was able to do that in an engineering role. She said: “I spoke to a girl of 13 recently who told me that she wanted to be a nurse because she wanted to help people. I said ‘do you know you can help people by pursuing engineering?’

I used the example of engineers that design and produce prosthetic limbs. She was shocked because she had no idea that manufacturing had anything to do with this.” Thanks to the endeavours of such people and initiatives the landscape is changing. has identified three women and a group of students at different stages in their careers who are an inspiration to young women everywhere.

Anna Schlautmann