Women in Engineering


Women in Engineering 

In 2023’s first episode of our Principle of Moments podcast, Hanover Fox Director, Charles Cornwell, and HR Specialist, Amanda Capon, discuss what needs to be done to broaden the appeal of the engineering industry to women and girls.

The UK engineering sector has the lowest percentage of women throughout any country in Europe (14.5%).

The future isn’t looking much better – in the UK, only 19% of those currently studying engineering at university are women.

What can we do to attract more women into the industry?

Firstly, interest needs to start at school level to address the fundamental imbalance in the engineering industry. Also, a report shows that a large majority of young girls and women would consider an engineering career if they had role models enjoying success and wide recognition in senior positions. Classrooms full of boys and men become the norm very quickly – creating a problem.

“A big issue has been not being able to get girls interested in the STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – subjects while at school,” says Amanda Capon.

“A lot of engineering companies are trying but the difficulty is that it’s really fragmented. Each company is making their own efforts but there is no overarching plan to collectively get women into STEM.

“I’ve spent most of my career in engineering. I joined an engineering firm in the late 90s and I would say we were really good at getting women into STEM. We went into schools at a very early age. It’s important for them to understand that an engineer is someone who designs, builds and tests things, and is a problem solver. That relates to everybody. Everyone is an engineer at some point in their life.”

“There’s a fundamental image problem for engineering, particularly in the UK,” says Charles Cornwell.

“In Europe, being an engineer is up there with being a doctor or a lawyer. This means that children aspire to be an engineer and throughout their education engineering is seen as an exciting career route.

“But in the UK , when you mention the word engineer there’s still the stereotype of overalls and grease under fingernails. Technology is moving towards digitalisation and away from the old perceptions of the mechanical engineer and what that entails.”

“We don’t promote our absolutely brilliant female scientists and engineers anywhere near enough – and this also means that we don’t create personas that female children can relate to,” says Capon.

“Additionally, though, a further problem in changing the male/female dynamic in the industry, comes out of unconscious bias. I’ve worked in engineering companies where if a man leaves a position, the company’s natural reaction is to want to replace him with another man if they think it’s a ‘man’s job’ – and you really have to challenge this.

“It’s the same with studies. More often than not, the lecturer has only worked in academia and not in the industry. If they have been used to mainly seeing men in their classes, the woman becomes an anomaly.”

Charles Cornwall agrees with this key point.

“There becomes a self-fulfilling cycle,” he says.

“No role models – therefore women aren’t promoted into roles where they can become role models. There are very few female leaders in these companies and therefore they aren’t prepared to take what they see as a ‘risk’ in promoting women into leadership roles.”

“We wouldn’t have a society without engineers – from the chairs you sit on to the food you eat, it’s all linked,” says Capon.

“But if you’re a woman and go to a university open day and sit in on lectures and it’s all men, it’s a challenge. And this needs to change.

“There are also age-old problems when you get into the workplace. The workplace is generally a far better and more inclusive place than it used to be, but there are still issues to address. In a male-dominated industry like engineering is in the UK, social events are likely to be male focused sports and events. There are exceptions, of course, but the percentage of women wanting to take part in these kinds of activities is far lower than the percentage of men.”

The message is clear – engineering is not just hard hats and ‘hi-vis’, it’s the crucial tool to satisfy society’s centuries-old need for innovation and technological evolution. The UK as a whole has been too reluctant in generating curiosity in schools and in dispelling the old stereotypes about engineers. This is the best place to start if we want to promote a broader outlook of the industry and draw in more interest from across the spectrum, including women and girls.

Click here https://www.hanoverfox.com/the-principle-of-moments-women-and-engineering/ to listen to the Principle of Moments: Women and Engineering – and hear more fascinating insight and proposed solutions from our expert guests.