Women in engineering: rising numbers, recruitment and leadership

Back in June during International Women in Engineering Day, we celebrated the number of women who have made engineering their chosen career path.

The celebration is designed to draw attention to the field – and show how it is a more welcoming industry for women than ever before.

Because the number of women in engineering does seem to be on the rise. But women are still under-represented in engineering and manufacturing jobs in the UK as a whole.

How many women are in engineering?

It’s estimated that women represent around 46% of the UK workforce. But as of 2021, it’s estimated that only 14.5% of those in engineering are women.

That is up from the 12% of a couple of years ago. It represents actual numbers rising from around 720 000 women in engineering to more than 900 000. It actually represents more of a female shift towards engineering than experienced by almost any other sector.

All of which are encouraging signs of progress. Yet these numbers are still nowhere near approaching parity with the actual percentage of women in the overall workforce.

Why would more women in engineering be a good thing?

Only attracting a small percentage of the potential recruits to engineering jobs and careers essentially wastes a large portion of the UK’s talent pool.

Engineering is a vast and varied field. It encompasses everything from software engineer jobs to manufacturing engineers. Civil engineers to chemical engineers.

It also has huge value to society. Just picture how civilisation would crumble without the engineers who make it work!

This means that attracting the largest number of recruits with the right potential, energy and ideas is vital. Plus, engineering is an engaging career path that may well be the perfect fit for many people who might once have ignored it.

What can be done to get more women in engineering?

Bringing more women into engineering isn’t a change that’s going to be accomplished overnight.

But for organisations that want to attract talent from the broadest possible pool, there are a few things that can be done that may make engineering jobs more appealing to women:

1) Focus on who engineers “are”, not just what they “do”

It has long been suggested that job descriptions that focus simply on what engineers do can be off-putting to many people. Particularly women.

An alternative is to focus on the type of person who would make a good engineer. Writing a job specification that includes more focus on personality and abilities might be a good way to attract more women to the field.

2) Promote the benefits of an engineering career

Another way to make engineering jobs appeal to a broader range of people – including more women – also involves shifting focus away from what engineers do.

In this case, to the opportunities and way of life offered by an engineering career.

3) Give engineering a bigger profile

There is estimated to be a need for an extra 2 million engineers in the UK in the next few years. Attracting new talent is going to be vital if the sector is going to be able to meet the needs of a changing world.

One of the keys to achieving this will require better signposting of the accessibility of an engineering career to younger people still in school and university. There needs to be:

  • Better “marketing” and promotion of the profile of engineering.

  • Better discussion of just how many fields “engineering” includes – to mirror the increasing number of students, especially young women, taking STEM classes.

4) Make organisation-level changes

Many organisations may need to make internal changes as we transition from a broadly male-dominated sector to a more balanced one.

Some of these changes may be aimed towards making initial onboarding and day-to-day office environments more inclusive. Some will need to be aimed at female staff retention.

It’s been estimated that around 57% of women drop out of their engineering career by 45 years of age. Comparatively, only around 17% of men do.

The main cause seems to be that male-dominated industry culture – which can retard promotion opportunities – paired with a lack of high-level female role models, partially created by the same problem.

Creating role models for the future

You only need to look around to see how many of the top leadership roles in engineering are filled by men. More role models who show that reaching the heights of the industry is possible are definitely needed.

Businesses that take steps now to create a more accessible and inclusive environment – and write job descriptions that underline who engineers are and the benefits of an engineering career – will be in a position to attract and retain more talent from the widest possible talent pool moving forwards.

Looking to recruit the perfect new engineer for your team?

As a specialist engineering recruitment agency, Ernest Gordon knows that many things make an engineering job role attractive to people from all walks of life.

Let’s talk. About the type of person you need. And what your role could mean for them.