Women in Engineering: Know the facts

Career Advice

By Janette Marx
June 8, 2022

November 29, 2023

0 min read

More women graduated with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) degrees in 2016 than ever before. There is now a higher number of women with university degrees graduating than their male counterparts.

Yet despite movement in the right direction, STEM is still a male-dominated area. Many countries fall short when it comes to the STEM gender gap, with women in engineering representing only 12% of the engineering professions workforce. We need to build workplaces where women thrive.

23 June marks International Women in Engineering Day. A day to raise awareness and profile of women in STEM roles.

Women in engineering are women in business

Googling the question ‘What is an engineer’ will give you the definition

‘a person who designs, builds or maintains engines, machines or structures

In that regard, engineers are the foundation of and creators of our everyday lives. Without the work they do, we would not see the improvements necessary to keep up with the ever-changing world we live in. 

However, when you google ‘famous female’ and read through the automated suggested results, you see job titles such as singer, actor, artist or athlete. One role that doesn’t tend to come up is ‘engineer’. This is something that we need to change. 

Women in engineering are women in business. They are in the business of infrastructure, building, flying, driving, energy, science, medicine and manufacturing. All of these contribute to making lives better. 

Read on to find out how you can become an engineering hero.

You can also watch my presentation on this subject for the Women's Engineering Society

The history of International Women in Engineering Day

The day was originally launched for the first time on 23 June 2014 in the UK by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), to celebrate its 95th anniversary.

It received UNESCO patronage in 2016, and the event went international in 2017 as International Women in Engineering Day (INWED), in response to interest and enthusiasm from international participants in previous years.

Since then, International Women in Engineering Day aims to inspire even greater participation, both online and through physical activities, by individuals, schools, colleges, groups and organisations across the globe.

Why this day is so important

We have to look at the statistics on women in engineering and realise that our changes are not enough to level the playing field.

Only once we fully understand this can we make changes that see more women in engineering roles.

  • 1% of UK engineering undergraduates in 2017 were women. Compare with India, where over 30% are women.
  • The proportion of women studying engineering and physics has remained virtually static since 2012.
  • Men and women in engineering and technology studies express similar levels of intent to work in their chosen field, but 66.2% of the men and 47.4% of the women 2011 graduates of engineering/technical programmes went on to work in engineering and technology.
  • 61% of engineering employers say recruitment of engineering and technical staff with the right skills is a barrier to business. 32% of these companies have reported difficulties recruiting experienced STEM staff, and 20% find it challenging to recruit entrants to STEM.
  • Of the 300 female engineers surveyed, 84% were either happy or extremely happy with their career choice. Yet in 2010, nearly 100,000 female STEM graduates were unemployed or economically inactive.
  • Engineering students are second only to medics in securing full-time jobs and earning good salaries.
  • Companies are 15% more likely to perform better if they are gender diverse.

Where are all the women?

The reality is that stereotypes remain intact. Women in engineering remain underrepresented and underpaid.

Lack of confidence early in a girl’s life can alter their career plans, even if they are highly capable in STEM.

Add to that lack of clubs, professional role models, hands-on experience, and difficulty understanding what an engineer does. All of a sudden, it is much clearer why there are fewer women in engineering than men.

What is holding women back from getting a job in engineering?

KPMG recently ran a study of female executives representing a range of industries across over 150 of the world’s leading organisations. The survey found that:

  • 75% of women report having personally experienced imposter syndrome at certain points in their career 

  • 85% believe that women in corporate America commonly experience imposter syndrome 

  • 74% of executive women believe that their male counterparts do not experience feelings of self-doubt as much as female leaders do 

  • 81% say they put more pressure on themselves not to fail than men do 

This feeling of imposter syndrome or self-doubt can hold us back in our careers. For example, if we’re in a meeting with a group of peers and self-doubt creeps in, it can prevent us from speaking up and voicing our opinions or sharing important ideas.

By not sharing these ideas, we can pull the entire group back from being able to advance them further and transform them into innovative new solutions. 

Engineers have brilliant minds and work well together in many different areas. All ideas should be shared to drive that all-important collaboration, as that is what will drive the engineering industry further into the future.

Laura Newinski, Deputy Chair and Chief Operating Officer at KPMG US, said:

“It’s important to realise that most women experience similar doubts at some point in their careers. Our contribution as leaders is pivotal.

Together, we have the opportunity to build corporate environments that foster a sense of belonging and lessen the experience of imposter syndrome for women in our workplaces.”

Laura Newinski, Deputy Chair and Chief Operating Officer at KPMG US 

What can we do to fix the gap?

While we cannot fix this gap overnight, there are many areas we can focus on to give women in engineering an equal opportunity to succeed.

Volunteer at events that encourage girls to consider careers in STEM

It’s essential that we promote women in engineering throughout the year and not just this one day. Allow employees time for volunteering at events that encourage girls to consider careers in STEM. These events could be at all age levels. Whether it is a girls programming camp or a university event, they are equally important.

Be a sponsor or mentor

Provide, and encourage opportunities for women in engineering to be part of a community of mentorship and support. Your whole company can benefit from these experiences.

Encourage women in leadership positions in STEM

Leadership is enriched when women participate. Look at projects and key client relationships you have. Consider how your company can encourage more women to get involved in leading these initiatives. But it doesn’t end there.

Once there are women in these leadership roles, they need to be supported. There needs to be action behind your words.

Treat everyone with respect regardless of gender

Make sure you aren’t differentiating between men and women in engineering roles. This applies to wages, opportunities, and responsibilities.

Nurture a culture of caring where employees can safely bring up any issues or areas of concern. And if they do, address them immediately.

What type of skills do I need to become an engineering hero?

Here at Airswift, we make it our mission to transform lives through the world of work. One of the ways we do that is by helping our candidates identify and nurture skills that will help them take the next step in their careers. 

Some of the skills we look for in our engineering heroes include: 

  • Being a lifelong learner 
  • Curiosity 
  • Creativity 
  • Innovation 
  • Imagination 
  • Passion 
  • Resilience 
  • Adaptability 
  • Collaborative skills 

During his keynote speech at the 2017 IEEE Vision Innovation Challenges Summit, Stanford University engineer, Professor James Plunger, said that the engineers of the future ‘will be a different breed of people than the engineers we educated in the 20th century.”

With that in mind, it’s important for budding engineers to have a change mindset, with the ability to visualise a new future. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, communication tools (74%) and collaboration tools (67%) are the two most important prerequisites for employees to work effectively. Today’s engineers can come up with great ideas, but they also need to communicate them to each other across genders, nationalities and nations. 

Engineers need to work together in a way that builds upon each other’s strengths. 

In many universities, students are not required to take a communication class with their engineering curriculum.

However, this is something that is really important, and a lot of students now realise this, and are getting their communication and collaboration skills through societies such as the Women in Engineering Society

How women can become part of the future of engineering

If you are currently studying to be an engineer, you are the pioneers who will break through and create the future of engineering. 

Engineers can make a difference in almost every field and within our daily lives.  What could the future of engineering bring to us? Some possibilities include:

  • Electronic autonomous air travel 
  • Remote robotic complex surgical procedures 
  • Boundary-free access to education 
  • Seamless communication in any language 
  • A cure for cancer and other medical breakthroughs
  • Affordable space travel 

What would you like to be known for within your engineering career? 

To date, 579 people have been into space.

Sixty-five of those are women.

These include Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, who completed the first women-only spacewalk, and Alyssa Carson, the youngest female to be accepted into and graduate from the Advanced PoSSUM Academy. This officially certifies her to travel to space and train to be an astronaut. 

Alyssa has been quoted as being driven by an insatiable desire to live life to the fullest, break through the ceiling of possibility, and make a positive, lasting impact on the world. She was only 17 years old when she was accepted into the Advanced PoSSUM Academy and is now 19.

Heroes are made by choice, through our own determination. Your own imagination and vision decide where you can take your career and how you can make your mark on society. 

What will your choice be? 

Understand it will take time, but work hard to make changes

Change won’t happen overnight. But knowing it will take time, doesn’t mean we relax our efforts. It means we work harder to accomplish our goal of seeing more women in engineering sooner.

An equal world benefits everyone. Let’s make it happen.

Start your career in engineering with Airswift

At Airswift, we have over 40 years of experience helping engineers find their dream roles in some of the world’s biggest organisations.

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