The underrepresentation of women in engineering is a global issue that has proven hard to address. Whilst the industry has come a long way in terms of equality, from the increasing number of women in STEM-related higher education to the rise in employment of female engineers, constant pressure is still needed to effect real systemic and cultural change.
In 2019, the UK hit a milestone of employing one million women in core-STEM occupations. Within this figure, 50,000 women were classified as engineering professionals, almost double the number recorded a decade before. However, women represent only 12% of the engineering workforce. With a large shortage of engineering talent, many believe that there is a massive opportunity to rectify some of these issues and create a more inclusive industry.
Encouraging female to study STEM subjects in education and higher education has been a traditional focus of many groups. According to UCAS data, there was an increase of 93.51% in female undergraduate applications for engineering courses from 2011 to 2020. The 2018/19 academic year also saw 5,375 female engineering graduates (16%).
We want to make it clear that engineering is a fantastic career for women. Outdated views and stereotypes are damaging to the industry, especially when there is a significant shortage of engineers, which poses a serious threat to the economy. It’s vital we champion engineering – it’s a diverse, creative and exciting career, which offers the opportunity to do something life – or even – world-changing.
– Jo Foster, IET Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager
The work doesn’t stop at education or removing the barriers to entry into a STEM career, it extends to offering equal opportunities and retention within employment.The work doesn’t stop at education or removing the barriers to entry into a STEM career, it extends to offering equal opportunities and retention within employment.
A report by the Royal Academy of Engineering estimated that 57% of female engineers drop off the register of professional engineers under the age of 45, compared to just 17% of male engineers. Reasons for this include lack of flexible working, reduced transparency around what progression opportunities are available, and a shortage of women in positions of seniority.
The Royal Academy of Engineering’s analysis of data from 25 engineering employers, comprising pay data for nearly 42,000 engineers, found that 91% of engineers in the top career grade were men; subsequently, 92% of those in the upper pay quartile were men. Additionally, 17% of the female engineers worked part-time compared to just 2% of the male engineers, and 14% more male engineers received a bonus.
In the survey, female engineers emphasised the impact of career breaks and maternity leave on their careers. Representation is not carried into management positions, with the majority of female engineers concentrated at the lower/ lower-middle quartile (16% and 10.3%). Focus groups established a consensus across both genders that male engineers are more able to fall back on their networks to access the opportunities they want.
Research by the RES in 2020 highlighted that the mean gender pay gap within engineering is less than the UK average for all sector. Yet, it remains disproportionate at 10.8% for the Engineering industry to the UK total of 16.2%. And, this differs in terms of the engineering sector itself.
Women make up 1.4% of the electrical engineering workforce (with a 13.2% mean pay gap), 2.4% of the mechanical engineering workforce (with a -2.6% mean pay gap), 9.9% of the electronics engineering workforce, 10.5% of the civil engineering workforce (with a -5.2% mean pay gap), 11.5% of the design and development engineering workforce (with a -5.8% mean pay gap), and 13.9% of the production and process engineering workforce (with a -5% mean pay gap). More substantially, the largest group were not classified at 21.2% and had a mean pay gap of 8.1% (Annual Survey for Hours and Earnings (ASHE); ONS 2019).
To close the gap, the RAE has some great practical suggestions. Our top four are listed below, but we’d encourage everyone to read the full findings in the report linked below.
1). Understanding the causes of the gender pay gap for engineers and which solutions are proven effective
2). Analysing data to understand your organisation’s gender pay gap
3). Introducing a transparent pay and progression policy and publish salary ranges.
4). Publishing a credible action plan
There is clearly work still to be done to improve diversity within the Engineering industry. The concentrated efforts of campaigns, pressure groups, and movements have helped to dismantle the glass ceiling, and pave a new way forward, building on the successes of female pioneers throughout history. Equality is now closer than ever, especially as momentum continues, people change their outlooks, and organisations embrace new innovative ways of working.
This blog was produced to celebrate International Women’s Day.
We are committed to championing D&I within our sectors and practices. As part of our Let’s Get Inclusive initiative, we aim to spotlight key individuals and and role models within the Technology and Engineering spaces.
Our Engineering team works with a variety of passionate and innovative clients. To understand our specialisms, take a look at our dedicated Engineering page. If you’re currently looking to recruit an engineering professional to join your team, send your requirement into Director of Engineering Steve Clarke:
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