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Tackling the gender gap in engineering

August 2019

Research from Cornell Universityand McKinsey & Co., among others, suggests that a diverse workforce leads to increased creativity, motivation and morale, all qualities which are paramount when developing innovative engineering solutions. Efforts to cultivate female talent in engineering are therefore essential to consolidate the UK's position as a world-leading innovator in the field. Here Rebecca Bound, Education Outreach officer at global engineering technologies company Renishaw, explains what employers can do to tackle the gender gap:

According to Engineering UK, in 2018 only 16 per cent of all engineering students at undergraduate level were female, a number that drops to twelve per cent once they enter the profession. Societal prejudices and the lack of role models can discourage even the most talented girls from pursuing an engineering career. This means that in the midst of a serious skills shortage, the economy is missing out on further talent.

Significant exposure to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects at an early age increases the chances that girls will consider engineering as a career. Research from Kings College London suggests that initiatives to increase girls' interest in STEM subjects cannot be limited to just during secondary school — they must start earlier to have a real impact.

Taking action

Employers have a crucial role in promoting STEM careers to girls. For example, companies can collaborate with local schools by offering education outreach programmes that specifically target female students, to support girls and help to fill the skills gap.

For example, Renishaw has organised ‘Girls into STEM' events, where female students from local secondary schools have taken part in hands-on projects, visited the company's Innovation Centre and listened to female engineers giving talks on why engineering can be a rewarding career. This helps to disprove the stereotypes about engineering careers always taking place in dirty environments, and helps provide real-life role models that young people can look up to. It's really important to convey to this young audience that STEM careers are about problem solving and making a difference in the world that we live in.

Role models, both real and fictional, play an essential role in getting girls excited about STEM subjects. That is why, on top of having female engineers talk to girls during their events, Renishaw distributed copies of the Little Miss Inventor book, part of the Mr Men™ and Little Miss™ series. The protagonist is an inventor who helps her friends improve their lives by creating technological gadgets. The book reminds girls that engineering can be creative and fun at the same time.

Partnering with relevant sports associations is also a good strategy. Renishaw has partnered with Gloucester Rugby to offer rugby camps to get girls excited about a sport and a career path that are traditionally male-dominated.

By opening their doors to both primary and secondary school children, engineering businesses can help solve the engineering skills shortage and inspire more young girls to consider STEM careers. That way, businesses can benefit from more diverse teams when working on innovative projects.

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