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Why aren't there more female engineers?

Today marks the launch of the first ever National Women in Engineering Day. Set up by the Women's Engineering Society (WES), the aim is to promote engineering as an exciting and rewarding career for women and young girls.

As such, WES is calling on government, companies, schools, engineering organisations and individuals to get involved and spread the word.

While I fear the event may not get the attention it so rightly deserves, it's still an important initiative and one that I hope will go some way to plugging the skills gap facing our industry.

Every year there is a nationwide shortfall of 10,000 engineering graduates, but the problem is particularly acute among women.

Just 7% of the UK's 2.3million engineers are women, the lowest in Europe.

As a job, engineering fares even worse in attracting women than other traditionally 'male' careers, such as politics (where 22% of MPs are women). But why is this?

"Unfortunately, engineering can sometimes suffer from a bit of an image problem – especially among girls – and it is not widely recognised for the exciting, dynamic careers that it offers," says Dr Marianne Ellis, from the University of Bath's Department of Chemical Engineering. "Role models of successful female engineers are really important."

Dr Ellis is right, of course. When I think of who would make the 'Top 10' list of famous engineers, there's a distinct lack of oestrogen in the mix. Who is there as famous as the likes of George Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel for us girls to look up to?

Before I get harassed for generalising, I'd like to point out that there are of course thousands of female engineers out there doing a great job.

My point is that they aren't being recognised and celebrated the way men are. And there simply aren't enough of them.

"We are hoping that National Women in Engineering Day will inspire people to focus attention on the lack of women in engineering, and encourage people to do something about it," says WES vice president Dawn Bonfield.

Things are improving, and we are slowly seeing more young women enter the profession.

But it is important for industry, educators and government to continue their efforts and ensure that engineering is no longer seen as a 'job for boys'.

Author
Laura Hopperton

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It's interesting that it says there's a shortfall of engineering graduates, yet from my class who graduated in 2011, it's been incredibly difficult for a lot of us to get jobs in the industry - none of the girls from my class have been able to find an engineering post. A fellow classmate of mine who graduated with first class honours is working in a bar right now, because he's been unable to find suitable work. I myself have resigned myself to an administration post, as it would appear nobody wants to hire an engineer with a 2:2 (not surprising when you consider my classmate with a first).

Posted by: Katie , 25/06/2014

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