Where are all the female engineers?

Girls cannot be engineers. They can’t do well in maths or physics, not like boys can. They should play at being rescued, not trying to solve problems, nor get their hands dirty or do anything adventurous.  

Is this the message out there? Is this the message being sent to young women? Perhaps not directly or blatantly – we don’t announce it or advertise it but it’s there. 

Each year since 2012, The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) has tracked the number of girls and women  ignoring this message by studying engineering and technology related subjects.  Unfortunately, their research shows that there are still a low number of females studying A-levels or STEM subjects at a higher education level.

There is a lot of good work and great initiatives being introduced across the UK to tackle this! For example, National Women in Engineering Day - #NWED2016 - is now an International campaign to raise the profile of women in engineering and focus attention on the amazing opportunities available to girls in this exciting industry. In support of this years campaign, a range of industry professionals came together to inspire over 200 students from 22 schools across Norfolk and Suffolk during an event in Norwich. This was a successful new collaboration linking together Connect Education Business in partnership with WEN UK, the oil and gas industry skills organisation OPITO, the Institute of Engineering Technology and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers as well as 50 other supporting organisations and businesses – check out our facebook page for more pictures of the day, which was also attended by Chloe Smith, the local MP. Arguably, the rhetoric around girls in engineering or in STEM has never felt so empowering across the world. Yet the numbers have stubbornly stayed the same.

Take the oil and gas industry.  E.ON Oil and Gas graduate engineer Yasmin Ali, always gets asked the question about issues and problems faced by women in male dominated environments, saying she, “always struggles to answer”. Yasmin hasn’t faced any gender related issues at work and concludes that this is more likely down to her general attitude towards work and life. Yet she asks, “Where are the women engineers then?” concluding  that perhaps women should believe in themselves, start taking risks and so, achieve their potential.

Adding weight to this, PwC in association with POWERful Women - an industry body that promotes female leadership in the energy sector - has released an annual update to its report “Igniting Change - Building the Pipeline of Female Leaders in Energy”. The latest analysis reveals that only 6% of the UK energy firms surveyed had female executive board members (previously five per cent) – one fifth of POWERful Women’s target of 30 per cent by 2030.

Looking ahead,a forum “Ensuring Representation on Boards, Empowering the Female Workforce and Eliminating the Gender Pay Gap” is scheduled to take place on 20th October 2016 to discuss progress made from the ongoing Hamilton-Alexander Review, a voluntary business led initiative championed by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Delegates will also consider the concentration of women in roles that are predominantly feminised… and as is too often the case in many engineering industries, those that are perceived to be for men.

So women can be engineers!  Hillary Clinton comments that, “Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world” or as in this context, that the energy industry is #notjustforboys.