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How can we help encourage more women into engineering?

19 June 2023

Women in Transport’s Jo Field and JFG Communications’ Becky Franklin offer advice on creating inclusive workplaces.

How can we help encourage more women into engineering?
There are many sides to a career in civil engineering. Image credit: Shutterstock

International Women in Engineering Day (23 June) is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women in engineering, transport, and infrastructure.

The day, fast approaching, is much needed to raise the profile of women working in these sectors.

Figures from 2022 show that only 16.5% of engineers in the UK are women.

In the transport sector, only one-fifth of the UK workforce are women.

This figure has remained static for years, despite encouraging numbers of women entering the sector as apprentices.

Why we need a diverse workforce

As Caroline Criado Perez suggests in her famed book ‘Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men’, because of a lack of thought for women, our needs and differences have become invisible.

The book highlights how there are very few circumstances in which women’s differing biology and physiology have been considered.

From building design and toilet arrangements to police vests and snow clearance, women simply haven’t been thought about. 

This is why we need a diverse workforce to ensure the world around us is designed by the people using it!

The importance of a diverse workforce on major projects

Earlier this year, members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Women in Transport and the APPG on Infrastructure visited HS2’s Curzon Street site in Birmingham.

The tour enabled us to hear from many inspirational women working on the project about their way into the industry and the pride they feel in their work.

This was a great reminder of the role women play in delivering major infrastructure projects.

But we need to attract more women to the industry to ensure we have enough skills to deliver the pipeline of infrastructure projects.

And, importantly, to make sure we are benefiting from talents representative of the whole population, rather than just half of it.

How to inspire and build a diverse workforce

Here are some of the things we advocate at Women in Transport for creating inclusive workplaces and building gender-diverse teams:

  1. Profile women doing all jobs at all levels in the company. This will provide young people with visible role models and inspire them to consider careers in the sector.
  2. Establish women’s networking groups to connect women and allies across teams and projects and help them gain confidence in their ability to make connections.
  3. Put in place diverse recruitment panels and remove personal details from CVs.
  4. Provide access to mentoring programmes, either in-house or with an industry body such as Women in Transport’s Advance programme.
  5. Invest in training and development to build leadership potential. Specific programmes tailored for women, such as Women in Transport’s Lead programme, are proven to be effective.

How many of these could you put in place in your own company?

Challenging stereotypes

From when they are young toddlers, many girls are taught to conform to stereotypes.

Although there’s a much greater emphasis at school that both girls and boys play with cleaning toys or building toys, their gender roles have often already been assigned at home.

This has created an occupational separation. Society’s attitudes strengthen the myth that boys are good at maths and science and girls are good at English.

According to the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, physics is the fourth most popular school subject for boys, but seventeenth for girls.

We need a more accurate picture of what engineering is

Many people still imagine a man in a hard hat and a hi-vis jacket when asked to think of what an engineer looks like.

The truth is engineering is so much more than this, and there’s a place for anyone who’s interested in shaping the world around us.

Some assume all engineers are surrounded by machinery on construction sites and work on maths equations.

Many don’t know about the other sides to engineering: the creative, the research, the project management side.

Engineers help create our schools and hospitals, innovate sustainable construction, and help build the world around us.

By painting a more accurate picture of what engineering entails, we can hopefully attract more talent, from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Time for change

This all needs to change.

ICE members and industry professionals can play a role in creating this change.

Careers advisors need to be more aware of the range of job opportunities that could come under engineering.

We need to profile female engineers, bring them into schools from a young age, and use campaigns to demonstrate what a female engineer looks like.

We need to make and show that engineering is an attractive and fulfilling choice of career.

These changes are slowly happening, but we need to take them much further.

  • Jo Field, president of Women in Transport and CEO at JFG Communications
  • Becky Franklin, senior account manager at JFG Communications