Generic image showing a female engineer in a workshop

2023 marks the tenth year of Women in Engineering Day – an annual day to honour and raise the profiles of women in the field of engineering.

The event was established by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), an English charity founded in 1919 at the end of the First World War, when women who had been employed in technical fields found it difficult, if not impossible, to continue working as engineers.

Since then, WES have worked tirelessly to encourage women into engineering, support those in the field and advocate for equality within the industry. Despite their hard work, women still make up just 16.5% of all engineers. As Sofiia Dron, Delivery Director at Intellias, shares, “unfortunately, social clichés and stigmas surrounding women’s perceived logical capabilities still reside in most regions of the world. Society often creates false pressure, propagating that men are inherently better at reasoning, problem-solving, and algorithm creation.”

But, “engineering offers constant opportunities to learn and grow, with more doors opening every day, bringing on a profound sense of fulfilment,” she adds.

There is, therefore, no reason why women shouldn’t enjoy an exciting and successful career in engineering but work needs to be done to achieve equality in the industry.

Breaking the stereotypes

The reason for the lack of women that we see entering the engineering workforce can be traced back to women’s experience in early schooling. Stereotypes and preconceived ideas of the industry can stop women from studying science, engineering, technology and maths (STEM) as soon as they can choose their own path, let alone begin a career in the field.

Caroline Seymour, VP of Product Marketing, Zerto, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, identifies that, “as they’re growing up, girls can be subjected to biases (both conscious and unconscious) early on in their schooling and are often actively discouraged from pursuing science, technology, engineering, and maths. Quite often teachers and parents underestimate girls’ maths skills starting as early as preschool.”

In order to change these mindsets and remove the bias, “we need to do far more at an earlier stage,” she continues. “Mentoring girls and encouraging them to pursue STEM coursework into higher education is a start. Opportunities such as classes and scholarships that cater to girls interested in the field are also important. It’s vital to support young women early in their life so they have the background, support, and confidence to overcome gender biases in STEM.”

Not only can more be done in education but businesses also have a role to play. Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA, Skillsoft, advocates for “showcasing female role models, dedicating time to organising engineering events and partnering with schools to find new ways to inspire the next generation of female engineers. By showing a commitment to equality of opportunity amongst their technical teams, organisations are ultimately promoting greater inclusion in the sector.”

These important steps can be powerful in engaging girls in the industry and encourage them to continue studying STEM subjects into higher education. Once this has been achieved, the next hurdle is to get them into the workplace. Whilst this may not seem like a big roadblock once women have chosen the engineering path, job adverts can be incredibly gendered and off-putting to female candidates.

Mini Biswas, Specialist Team Unit – Operations Lead at Node4, believes that the terminology used in job adverts needs to change: “It needs to be simplified and friendlier in tone. You don’t need to be a technical whizz or have an engineering degree to enter the field but so often we see them listed as a candidate ‘must have’. In this day and age, there should be more use of words like ‘flexible’, ‘remote working’ and ‘willing to develop’, which will make the roles more approachable for women.”

Wendy Zveglic, VP of Engineering at Fluent Commerce, agrees and shares her experience where revising the job description had a huge impact on levelling the candidate pool: “Leveraging the power of technology, I utilised Textio in 2020 to revise the job description, making it more appealing and accessible to women. The results were astonishing – within a mere 72 hours, 20 talented women had applied, compared to 2 applicants using the previous job description. This experience reinforced the notion that companies must adapt their hiring strategies to attract and empower women.”

Diversity is key

Once a part of the workplace, it is essential that policies are in place to support women in engineering. Getting them into the industry is just half of the job – nearly 40% of women who do enter the field end up leaving.

Dr Shirley Knowles, Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer at Progress, call out some of the factors that contribute to their exit, such as “gender stereotypes and existing male-dominated cultures”. She recommends that organisations take action to “offer flexible working to support a better work-family balance, provide mentor schemes and build a supportive environment in which mutual listening and learning is promoted” in order to close the gender gap.

Putting the time, effort and resources into implementing such policies may seem like a burden to organisations, especially with so many having to do more with less in the current economic environment. But, closing the gender gap will create a more diverse workforce, which provides huge benefits to businesses.

As Lani Leuthvilay, Head of Product Marketing at PlainID, explains, “when team members share similar backgrounds and exhibit similar patterns of thinking, they may not be able to identify solutions quickly nor find a compelling way to communicate its relevance to people who may benefit from the solutions. That’s why it’s so important to encourage women from diverse backgrounds to study STEM subjects from a young age to provide a variety of perspectives that foster creative solutions and attract a wide range of clients.”

What’s next?

Women in Engineering Day has been campaigning for equality in the industry for a decade now, but we are still seeing little change. What is needed is for businesses to step up and take action. Once we take the effort to close the gender gap seriously, we can start reaping the rewards that come with a diverse workforce.

As Node4’s Mini Biswas concludes: “Despite its best intentions, Women in Engineering Day and similar initiatives will not change the situation overnight. However, what it does do is raise awareness and give a voice to those who may be fighting to be heard. We will only see real progress once they are listened to and organisations take action to put equality measures in place. It will be these voices that bring a different way of thinking and spark innovation within the industry as well as the overarching world. We need to be championing them and supporting those who are different, not just for Women in Engineering Day, but every day.”

So, use today as an opportunity to engage with girls in education, position engineering as a fulfilling and inclusive career, and support those female engineers already in your workforce. Let’s be the change we need to see in engineering.