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The past, present and future of Women in Engineering

Just a quick Google of ‘women in engineering stats’ is likely to make you sigh. Did you know that only 16.5% of engineers in the UK are women? Or that in the automotive industry specifically there are very few women in executive positions? 

As someone who recruits engineers for leading Automotive companies, I’ve seen first-hand how few women are in the industry. It should shock me, but sadly it just confirmed what most of us already know, that women in engineering are few and far between. In fact, since starting at FMC in August of last year, I can count on two hands the amount of women I’ve spoken to in the engineering industry… and that’s not for want of trying. 

How have we got here?

The short answer? It starts early. Women are underrepresented not only in the engineering sector, but in other STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. This can be traced back to a lower intake of girls into STEM subjects during their time in education. Only around 23% of A level physics students are female, a figure that has stayed roughly the same for the past 30-odd years. And the number of women choosing engineering-based subjects is even lower. 

But it’s not just about STEM subjects, it’s also a cultural thing. A Harvard Business Review report stated that a major barrier to entry and a reason for women leaving engineering professions comes down to the industry’s ‘hegemonic masculine culture’. And with ‘cultural norms’ being the reason for 11% of women considering leaving the automotive engineering industry in 2020, and lack of ED&I and flexibility being a reason women often don’t consider the industry, it seems to be an ongoing issue. 

My own experience sort of mirrors this. As a young girl, you’re not really told that engineering could be a career path for you. I actually did opt to study Engineering at college when I was 16, but after doing a year of it found that the male-heavy culture made me not want to carry on. I ultimately left the course and opted to pursue Nursing instead. I think this has made me passionate about helping women achieve their career goals in the industry though, so I guess I’m ultimately grateful for the experience.  

Is it getting better?

Reading some of the stats I mentioned earlier, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all doom and gloom. Yes, the numbers of women in STEM and Engineering roles is still low when you’re looking at the bigger picture, but things have definitely improved in the last few years. In fact, there’s been a 25.7% increase in women in engineering occupations compared to 2016. 

Plus with organisations like WISE and WES championing getting women into STEM and engineering and fighting to change cultural norms and improve engineering workplaces for women, there’s bound to be more positive change to come.  

What about the automotive space?

In the automotive world specifically, there are great strides being made to get more girls into F1 and motorsports engineering. The F1 in Schools competition (read more here) is designed to ‘inspire students to pursue careers in STEM and explore new scientific concepts’. It’s helping to break down barriers when it comes to getting young girls interested in STEM.  

Companies like Formula Careers are aiming to be increasingly transparent on routes into the industry, regardless of gender, including their ‘women in motorsports’ series.  

There’s also the brilliant ‘Girls on Track’ initiative, a joint venture between the FIA and Motorsport UK. This is designed to use the exciting world of motorsports to get more girls interested in STEM and engineering, exposing them to the plentiful career pathways in the sport. They also use ambassadors (from team principals, to mechanics, to engineers) who go into schools and bring the career to life to show girls that there’s a place for them in the industry. And to top it off, there’s an inspirational woman like Susie Wolff involved who is a great role model. What’s not to like? 

Looking to the future

It feels like we’re starting to make strides into making engineering a more inclusive career for anyone who’s interested in it, regardless of gender. I hope as my career as an automotive recruiter progresses, I’ll get to see and support more and more women in entering the industry and making brilliant, rewarding engineering careers for themselves. 

If you’re a woman in engineering looking to make your next career move, or would simply like to share your experience, I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me on erin.sheridan@fmctalent.com.

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