Elementary School Science Classroom: Cute Little Girl Looks Under Microscope, Boy Uses Digital Tablet Computer to Check Information on the Internet. Teacher Observes from Behind, STEM education, gender neutral

23rd June marks the annually celebrated International Women in Engineering Day, dedicated to celebrating the work of female engineers across the globe.

2022 marks the 9th year of the annual celebrations, but still, only 16.5 per cent of engineers are women. With only a quarter of girls aged 16-18 considering a career in engineering compared to over half of boys, there is still a long way to go for equality in the industry.

To coincide with the day, WeAreTechWomen spoke to nine industry leaders to determine what businesses can be doing to support their female engineers and encourage more women and girls into the industry.

Creating a more equal world

The world of engineering encompasses a huge range of roles in the modern day – from the traditional jobs in civil and mechanical engineering to the more modern tasks involved with developing and building software. There are ample opportunities for everyone, yet women remain very outnumbered.

Fluent Commerce, Lesley Dean“Women who do find interest in engineering, and perhaps even study it, find themselves in a very male dominated, competitive environment, and often don’t stick to it,” begins Lesley Dean, Director, Enablement & Learning at Fluent Commerce. “Even for the few women that build a career in the industry, the management level is often dominated by men, which continues to deter women.

“I’ve been in this industry for more than 20 years, and in many ways I feel as though there are even fewer women in engineering.

“Women tend to take specific roles or areas of study, where the numbers are more balanced, or even predominantly women.”

Anais Urlichs, AquaAlso sharing her personal experience entering the industry, Anais Urlichs, Developer Advocate at Aqua Security, reveals how she “did not consider pursuing a career in technology until university. It didn’t seem like an option because no one had taken the time to educate me about potential careers in the sector. As a young girl, I had been discouraged from trying activities in that space. Simple conversations about the jobs and technologies that are out there would have made a huge difference for me.”

Fiona Hood, TotalmobileHowever, it is not all doom and gloom – Fiona Hood, Director of Presales at Totalmobile, stresses that the situation is improving: “The number of women coming into the STEM workforce keeps increasing year on year and WISE have estimated that by 2030, they expect to reach over 29% of women in the STEM workforce.” 

Start from the bottom

Agata Nowakowska, SkillsoftA major part of this inequality within the industry can be traced right back to the start of a girls’ career – in education. This is, therefore, the best place to start in our efforts to close the gender gap. As Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft, explains: “A big contributor to rectifying this balance is considering how engineering is taught in schools. The onus should be on finding new ways to keep girls engaged in STEM subjects throughout their academic career by providing them with the opportunity to build their skills — for example, by developing websites, learning to code, or using robotic toys.”

Ronit Polak_Exabeam“Teachers should be the first to combat the misconception that a career in engineering is a ‘man’s world’,” agrees Ronit Polak, Vice President of Engineering at Exabeam. “Many young girls have the idea that engineers code all day, which discourages them from expressing interest in the field. This is something we desperately need to change. Educating young girls about the wide range of engineering occupations might help them understand where their interests might fall inside the engineering umbrella sooner. Early exposure increases the likelihood that children, particularly girls, would pursue a career when they reach college age and beyond.”

Whilst education is a great starting point for encouraging more girls into the industry, Hugh Scantlebury, CEO and Founder of Aqilla, stresses that it is important to recognise that it is not the only avenue to start an engineering career: “It is not just about academic success — there are many opportunities to encourage women into the industry without formal academic qualifications. Businesses should try to ensure they are championing women who have practical experience or simply a passion and natural affinity for engineering — and support them in their careers as engineers too. There’s more than one path to success in this sector, and we should be open to them all.”

Be supportive and flexible

Once we have succeeded in getting girls to enter the industry, it is essential that the support continues throughout their careers. Accenture and Girls who Code’s study highlights how prominent of an issue the retention of women in the sector is as it reveals 50% of women abandon technology careers by the age of 35.

Having empathy, understanding women’s commitments outside of work and being flexible to adapt to such circumstances is key to this retention, advocates Jen Lawrence, Chief People Officer at Tax Systems: “Flexible working is an essential criteria that many employees have come to expect in the current world of hybrid working. This can be a particular requirement for women, many of whom have to balance work with childcare and other responsibilities. Having the option to work around school drop off and pick up times, or even having the opportunity to take a slightly longer break in the afternoon to have some time to do the things that enables them to focus on themselves, can have a huge impact on how women view work.

“Flexibility brings enjoyment back into working hours, rather than growing to resent the restrictions of the traditional 9 to 5.”

“The great thing about software engineering is that it can be done from anywhere – businesses should utilise these benefits and offer flexibility as a standard working practice.”

Pournima Parange, Engineering Manager at ConnectWise, agrees that, “working mothers are still expected to manage their home and children, alongside their office work. The pressure to juggle both, and complete everything on time without compromise, can cause women to struggle. Organisations should support female workers and ease the pressure, providing equal opportunities for growth and encouraging women to consider what is possible in their career.”

To conclude, Dr Shirley Knowles, Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer at Progress, summarises: “Eradicating bias means promoting a balanced gender access to STEM subjects from school level and driving out discrimation right from the top of organisations. With the increasing importance of ESG strategy, business credibility is beginning to be judged on gender balance.

“Leaders should understand not only the risks of not being inclusive but also the huge benefits diversity and gender balanced teams bring to their business.”