More women graduated with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in 2016 than ever before. There are now a higher number of women with university degrees graduating than their male counterparts.
Yet despite movement in the right direction, STEM is still a male-dominated area. Many countries fall short when it comes to the STEM gender gap, with women in engineering representing only 12% of the engineering professions workforce. We need to build workplaces where women thrive.
23 June marks International Women in Engineering Day. A day to raise awareness and profile of women in STEM roles.
The history of International Women in Engineering Day
The day was originally launched for the first time on 23 June 2014 in the UK by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), to celebrate its 95th anniversary. It received UNESCO patronage in 2016, and the event went international in 2017 as International Women in Engineering Day (INWED), in response to interest and enthusiasm from international participants in previous years.
Since then, International Women in Engineering Day aims to inspire even greater participation, both online and through physical activities, by individuals, schools, colleges, groups and organisations across the globe.
Why this day is so important
We have to look at the statistics on women in engineering and realise that the changes we have made are not enough to level the playing field. Only once we fully understand this, can we make changes that see more women in engineering roles.
- 1% of UK engineering undergraduates in 2017 were women. Compare with India where over 30% are women.
- The proportion of women studying engineering and physics has remained virtually static since 2012.
- Men and women in engineering and technology studies express similar levels of intent to work in their chosen field, but 66.2% of the men and 47.4% of the women 2011 graduates of engineering/technical programmes went on to work in engineering and technology.
- 61% of engineering employers say recruitment of engineering and technical staff with the right skills is a barrier to business. 32% of these companies have reported difficulties recruiting experienced STEM staff, and 20% find it challenging to recruit entrants to STEM.
- Of the 300 female engineers surveyed, 84% were either happy or extremely happy with their career choice. Yet in 2010 nearly 100,000 female STEM graduates were unemployed or economically inactive.
- Engineering students are second only to medics in securing full-time jobs and earning good salaries.
- Companies are 15% more likely to perform better if they are gender diverse.
Where are all the women
The reality is that stereotypes remain intact. Women in engineering remain underrepresented and underpaid.
Lack of confidence early in a girl’s life can alter their career plans, even if they are highly capable in STEM. Add to that lack of clubs, professional role models, hand-on experience, and difficulty of understanding what an engineer does. All of a sudden, it is much clearer why there are fewer women in engineering than men.
What can we do to fix the gap
While we cannot fix this gap overnight, there are many areas we can focusing on to give women in engineering an equal opportunity to succeed.
Volunteer at events that encourage girls to consider careers in STEM
It’s essential that we promote women in engineering throughout the year and not just this one day. Allow employees time for volunteering at events that encourage girls to consider careers in STEM. These events could be at all age levels. Whether it is a girls programming camp or a university event, they are equally important.
Be a sponsor or mentor
Provide, and encourage, opportunities for women in engineering to be part of a community of mentorship and support. Your whole company can benefit from these experiences.
Encourage women in leadership positions in STEM
Leadership is enriched when women participate. Look at projects and key client relationships you have. Consider how your company can encourage more women to get involved in leading these initiatives. But it doesn’t end there. Once there are women in these leadership roles, they need to be supported. There needs to be action behind your words.
Treat everyone with respect regardless of gender
Make sure you aren’t differentiating between men and women in engineering roles. This applies to wages, opportunities, and responsibilities. Nurture a culture of caring where employees can safely bring up any issues or areas of concern. And if they do, address them immediately.
Understand it will take time, but work hard to make changes
Change won’t happen overnight. But knowing it will take time, doesn’t mean we relax our efforts. It means we work harder to accomplish our goals of seeing more women in engineering sooner.
An equal world benefits everyone. Let’s make it happen.
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