The UK still has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, standing at fewer than ten per cent, according to the Women’s Engineering Society.
The lack of women in engineering, and STEM as a whole, has long been under the microscope facing criticism in a world where gender equality is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
But why is there a lack of women in engineering?
The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) recently drew attention to the dire figure that only nine per cent of the engineering industry is made up of female workers.
There are number of reasons thrown around as to why there is such a low representation of women in engineering; such as gender stereotyping, a university to work gap, and the industry not engaging women.
New research recently released by totaljobs also found that women in science, tech, engineering and maths (STEM) can typically expect to be paid over £7,000 less than men.
The survey also revealed that many women in STEM have a lack of confidence when it came to talking about money. Of the 1,450 STEM professionals surveyed, 65 per cent of women admitted they don’t feel comfortable asking for a pay rise, compared to 51 per cent of men.
Another study discovered that female engineers are leaving the field because they are not taken seriously. The research found that unchallenging projects, blatant sexual harassment and greater isolation from support networks contribute to women’s exit from engineering.
Fabiana Moreno is a graduate engineer working in Strategic Intelligence – Marketing at Schneider Electric.
Here she explains why Schneider Electric is a great option for women considering a career in engineering:
What is your role at Schneider Electric?
I am currently gearing towards the end of the graduate programme; which has consisted in three different placements across different business units. I have been with the Field Services team, Power Solutions and I am currently supporting the Marketing services team. The programme has been a great learning experience; because it’s so varied you are constantly challenged but also rewarded along the way. On my first placement I was onsite with the field engineers and the following placement I was in the office discussing big bids with bidding engineers.
How would you describe your career journey?
The graduate scheme has offered me constant learning and many development opportunities, but one of the highlights for me was to be able to participate in my group project showing the total cost of ownership of our solutions to our customers in the UK, which has now had interest from the US to be rolled globally.
What does you enjoy about your role and why’s it a great fit?
The programme has had a great mix of technical and commercial roles across different areas of the organisation. For me, it was important to have the opportunity to work and explore different business units to get a flavour of the business not only I have been able to develop my technical skills but also commercially.
What I enjoyed the most about the programme was on how many things I got involved. I have had the opportunity to support my manager strategizing about our top customers at Field Services, supported the engineers in the field, prepared bids for big projects, have provided intelligence information about our competitors and different industries to senior peers.
What advice does you have for women and graduate engineers?
Engineering is a great career, where you can push yourself and others to solve today’s problems. There is a pre-conception that engineering is not a career for women and this couldn’t be further from the truth. More women nowadays are studying STEM subjects to go into engineering. A career that offers so many opportunities.
In an attempt to raise awareness of these issues, WISE have recently joined forces with HRH The Princess Royal to launch a campaign tackling the lack of women in science, technology, maths and engineering.
Speaking about the initiative, co-chair Professor Hilary Lappin-Scott, senior pro-vice-chancellor of research and innovation at Swansea University, said, “We have a ‘leaky pipeline’ when it comes to women and academic careers.”
“More girls than boys are studying science at degree level but this huge pool of talent is ‘leaking away’ as men’s and women’s careers progress.”
So how do we block the ‘leaky pipeline’ and encourage more women into STEM subjects?
There are currently a number of initiatives that aim to promote women in engineering and encourage more young people to take up STEM.
The Women’s Engineering Society (WES) plays a large part in promoting female representation within the sector. In June 2016, together with the Telegraph, they released the first Top 50 Women in Engineering list, highlighting the top influential women in engineering.
Alongside WES, there are number of other networks who support and promote women in the field, including WISE Network, IEEE, InterEngineering and Women in Building Services Engineering (WiBSE).
A number of awards also take place to celebrate and highlight women in the sector. The European Women in Construction & Engineering Awards recently announce its 2017 finalists, with female winners across the board from roles including architecture, rail engineers, project managers and civil engineers.
Recently, Holly Broadhurst, a female engineering apprentice, was named the Nuclear Decommissioning Site Licence Companies Higher and Degree Apprentice of the Year at the National Apprenticeship Awards.
Karen Ashworth has a fascinating role as Validation Consultant at Schneider Electric™. She specialises in how to design, document, implement and test computer systems that are going to control or monitor pharmaceutical manufacturing processes.
What Karen enjoys most in her role is working with customers to define their needs, then undertaking testing and commissioning onsite to prove that those needs have been met.
Working in the nuclear industry
Karen has a degree in Engineering and was sponsored at university by British Nuclear Fuels, who she then went to work for as a graduate. “My first role involved designing a control system for a nuclear reprocessing plant. I then moved to Sellafield to become a shift leader on the Vitrification Plant which turns the highly active waste products from reprocessing into glass which is sealed into steel canisters for safe long term storage. I later returned to designing control systems at Eurotherm (now part of Schneider Electric) in Worthing and my experience working in the highly regulated nuclear industry transferred neatly over into working in pharmaceuticals.
Developing international best practice
For the last 16 years, Karen has been running her own company specialising in validating control systems for pharmaceutical applications and has continued to work closely with Eurotherm and then Schneider Electric throughout that time. “I’ve also been heavily involved in developing international best practice in this area working on the GAMP (Good Automated Manufacturing Practice) good practice guide for validation of process control systems and leading the team who updated the good practice guide for testing systems in this environment and, most recently, leading a team who are writing a pragmatic guide to data integrity in process control systems,” explains Karen. One of Karen’s career highlights has in fact been when she was invited to be a member of the UK GAMP steering committee.
One of Karen’s more recently completed large projects with Schneider Electric involved foraying out from pure pharmaceuticals into hygiene products and related to a huge batch control system that manufactures the liquids used in some big name household products. Karen’s work is certainly never dull, and she thrives on each new challenge.
WeAreTheCity’s Rising Star awards also allow women in STEM a platform to showcase their achievements and give them a chance to be recognised as a ‘rising star’ within the industry.
In February, the Royal Academy of Engineering and Entrepreneur First teamed up to launch the ‘Future of Engineering’ competition. The nationwide search hoped to find and promote the best of the UK’s up and coming leaders in engineering. The winner of the competition will receive a cash prize of £10,000 to put towards the development of their business or idea, while the runner up will receive £5,000.
A day to celebrate:
Every year, International Women in Engineering Day is celebrated on 23 June. Created in 2004, by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), the day aims to celebrate female careers within the sector and highlight the lack of diversity in engineering, while encouraging more women and girls to think about becoming an engineer.