‘We recruit service engineers every day in medical technology, and shockingly during some recent research we found that only 1% of our applicants for these jobs are female.’ (Ryan Luckman, FMC Meditech)
When discussing this subject, Ryan asked me why I’d chosen marketing as my career path, rather than engineering. My answer was simply that I’d never even considered engineering.
The fact that I’d never considered a role in the engineering industry may not sound like an important piece of information, but as a (reasonably) young female, it meant that I fell into an obvious trend. Fewer than 10% of UK engineers are female and, more specifically, only 1% of Field Service Engineers are.
There must be a reason why females often don’t pursue, or even think about, engineering careers – and therefore are underrepresented in the industry.
It all stems from STEM
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. Personally, I had opted out of all STEM subjects by the time I was taking my A levels, even though up until that point I had achieved success in science and mathematics that was on a level with my male counterparts. This was the same story for most of my female friends at school.
This appears to be part of a larger trend in education. Only around 20% of A level physics students are women, a figure that has stayed roughly the same for the past 25 years, and in 2017 only 15.1% of engineering graduates were women.
So why do women seemingly choose to move away from STEM subjects when their male counterparts often do not?
‘Females report finding it more difficult to identify with STEM than males, and some feel their academic identity is incompatible with their gender identity’ (UNESCO, 2017)
A simple google image search of ‘field service engineering’ brings up photographs predominantly of men.
A Harvard Business Review report (2016) stated that a major barrier to entry and a reason for women leaving engineering professions comes down to the industry’s ‘hegemonic masculine culture’. Girls seem to feel that there is little to no place for them in the market, or that men possess innate characteristics that make them more suited to those kinds of jobs.
This simply isn’t true.
So, what can be done? The answer is both educational and cultural.
‘Female teachers can positively influence girls’ education in STEM by dispelling myths about sex-based, innate abilities among boys and by acting as role models for girls’ (UNESCO, 2017)
Female STEM teachers can positively influence the future STEM careers of girls’ as they act as a source of inspiration and encouragement. They enable girls to believe in their abilities, rather than considering STEM careers as a purely male domain, with jobs that only boys are suited for.
‘It’s not women who need to change – it’s the work environment that does’ (Fouad, 2011)
Combatting masculine culture in engineering and other STEM fields may also help to encourage women into the industry, as well as reducing their attrition rates once working in those fields. Many companies have partnered with WISE (Women in Science, Technology and Engineering), following their 10 steps initiative to improve company culture and to encourage more women to take up roles with them.
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