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Plugging the gender gap: UK has lowest percentage of female engineer professionals in Europe

10 June 2020

For centuries, a stereotype has existed around the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) industries.

This is perhaps the main reason why the number of women in the industry is still at such a low level. Tragically, despite the stereotype now being incredibly out-dated, its presence still lingers. 

Manual labour, long working hours and rows of assembly lines – this is the impression that sticks on most people from outside the industry. So much so, a survey carried out by Women in Manufacturing (WiM) found that almost three-quarters of women would not consider a career in manufacturing as a viable option.

It may seem like a fairly complex task to sell the industry to women. However, what will attract women to coming to such jobs? In order to want to fill a job yourself, you must be able to envisage yourself in it first. For a woman looking at a male-dominated industry, it is virtually impossible for them to do so. Therefore, to encourage more women, companies need to have more women – starting at the top. 

In 2018, the FTSE 100 was able to report an increase in female-held directorships. Despite the number of female executive directorships remaining the same between 2017 and 2018, directorships rose from 294 to 305 – a rise of 1.3%. Out of these 100 companies, those in the construction and building sector only featured twice. 

The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineer professionals in Europe, with countries such as Cyprus having nearly three times as many women in similar roles. 

This article will focus on women’s relationship with the STEM and manufacturing industries. 

Untapped

A 2016 survey found that manufacturing had the largest pool of untapped talent, simply because there were very few women in the roles previously. Not only is there an abundance of female staff available, but they are also highly qualified – most possessing not only a Bachelor’s but a supplementary Master’s degree.

Unfortunately, 51 percent of women who are employed within this area have commented on how they have been treated worse, simply due to their gender. This moves away from stereotypes, however, and into a dangerous position of discrimination. Women being in these roles has proved to be beneficial not only in plugging the gender gap, but also for the company’s profitability. Research suggests that every 10 percent increase in gender diversity relates to a 3.5 percent increase in gross profit.

The Shine Theory

This is where Shine Theory comes into play and it carries significant relevance to women trying to crack the heavily male-dominated industries. The workplace can be a hard place for anyone starting new, but for a woman starting in a new role surrounded by mainly men, the aforementioned stats speak for themselves. 

The shine theory focuses on how much women can succeed if they were to befriend other females in the workplace, as opposed to battling against them. Effectively, this American concept emphasises how surrounding yourself with positive and successful women will create a positive atmosphere within. 

Early development

A Guardian study from 2018 found that women constitute only 14.4% of all people working in STEM in the UK, despite the fact they make-up almost half of the workforce. The best way of encouraging this is to establish more prominent aspirational female figures within these subject areas. Take, for example, Brian Cox: it is easier for young boys interested in getting into physics to relate to him. Alternatively, Donna Strickland, as a physicist from Canada, became only the third woman ever to win the Nobel Prize award for her science. Her name, along with others who achieved spectacular heights needs to be promoted throughout kids of a young age.

Apprenticeships 

The traditional degree route isn’t for everyone and apprenticeships are once again gaining popularity. The statistics for the sectors in which women are choosing to carry out apprenticeships doesn’t bode well in supporting this plug of the gender gap. Subject areas like learning support, travel services, and beauty therapy all had 80% or more female applicants. On the other hand, vehicle maintenance and repair, the gas industry, and construction skills all had below 10%.

We assess two companies who are pushing to increase their number of female apprenticeships:

Lookers

The national motor retailer, which provides the new Ford Transit, launched its female apprentice network last year. The scheme is based around setting up regular meetings between female apprentices, providing them with the opportunity to share their new-found knowledge and experiences.

British Gas

The energy provider has placed emphasis on getting women to apply for their apprenticeship scheme by offering examples of applicants with examples of some of their highest achieving female members of staff. They similarly draw upon the fact that, by putting more women into male-dominated apprenticeships, the gender pay gap is likely to be bridged. 


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