What can be done to encourage the development of a more diverse engineering workforce?
Why it’s important (introduction)
In a 2015 survey, it was found that only 15% of engineering and STEM students in the UK were female – half of India’s 30%. This disparity is clearly indicative of a diversity issue in the UK’s engineering sector. A lack of female engineers makes for a homogeneous workforce, and leads to limited development and progression when the engineering projects undertaken only reflect male work and a male-dominated environment. This also extends to BME engineers, the creative process that occurs during an engineering project is one that is unavoidably based on life experiences. Having a diverse engineering team is important to producing the most inclusive and functional solutions to problems that our society faces.
An example of this stunted development can be found when looking at the design of the first airbags. The design was made for the male body, and the lack of consideration for female bodies made their use unsuitable and dangerous. Some women even suffered death upon deployment of the airbags. While this may be an extreme example, it’s important evidence which illustrates the importance of women’s contributions and viewpoints when considering some of the most challenging engineering problems. Without equal collaboration, crucial issues can be overlooked, particularly when engineering products are designed for bodily safety.
What can be done to solve the problem (main body)
The current interpretation of engineering is that it has a highly mathematical and physics based nature. Whilst this is true and important, teamwork, communication and creativity are also valued and are crucial skills needed in an ever competitive industry. The current method of shoehorning competent students in STEM subjects and overlooking other qualities needed for a successful career is only limiting the number of possible females wanting to pursue this path from a young age by deterring otherwise interested female students. This is due massive misconception of the reality of engineering, often thought of as a dirty, loud and manually intensive trade. This image can be changed by introducing more mentors coming into school to talk to students, particularly female mentors to develop a deeper understanding of engineering and encourage particularly more females to find their role within this sector. Once pupils are exposed to the larger range of qualities and skills needed for a successful career females may be more keen to find out more as the confidence that they may now have due to the other skills needed may not be so male dominated.
Maths, physics and in particularly computer science is still taught in many school in a traditional sense, where students work individually with group work being rare. This can often lead to the wrong impression being made about certain subjects such as engineering where collaborative work is commonplace. Hence it’s no surprise when students who prefer a more creative and collaborative work style are put of engineering for further study. Schools should try and encourage a more open working environment where group work includes students of all skills and abilities such that a team problem solving mindset can be introduced and developed, a better representation of real world work particularly pertinent to engineering practice.
Retention rates for graduate female engineers are lower than their male counterparts, 40% of males remain in the industry whilst only 25% of females do. This loss of engineers has been described as the ‘the leaky pipeline’. This ultimately leads to having fewer females in high powered roles. A lack of female presence in influential roles leads to a lack of powerful role models for a younger generation. In study over the course of 7 years it was found that Women had more self doubt when it came to engineering practice, this was often reportedly felt due to a lack of communication with supervisors, this was particularly true during internships undertaken. The women in the report hinted that an increased communication with group supervisors during project work and after would have increased their confidence and make them happier in their role, perhaps leading to an increased retention rate.
– Ethnic minority(maybe)
Assessing the success (conclusion)