Cyber sexism is putting girls off engineering careers

Online images still portray engineering as a job for the boys is leading to girls being put off from potentially well-paid and exciting careers, according to new research from EngineeringUK.

The study, released to mark the start of Engineers Week 2015 (2-6 November), has found a host of organisations, including universities, media outlets, search engines are all guilty of reinforcing engineering stereotypes through their choice of images online.

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Chief Executive of EngineeringUK Paul Jackson said: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, it is extremely worrying that cyber sexism is rife when it comes to the depiction of engineers on websites used by young people.

“Engineers shape the world we live in and are behind many of the amazing everyday things we take for granted. Engineering isn’t just about men in hard hats.

“In the next decade employers will need 1.82m people with engineering skills, meaning we need to double the number of apprentices and graduates entering the industry. We cannot afford to lose would-be engineers by carelessly reinforcing stereotypes and not showing the full scope of exciting careers available.

“As part of Tomorrow’s Engineers Week 2015 we are calling on all organisations to look carefully at how they represent engineering and stop using these out-dated, gender stereotypical pictures.

“We need to inspire, not discourage, young people to consider engineering as their future career.”

It analysed engineering-related imagery from more than 70 popular websites and found stock image sites and search engines were the worst culprits regarding gender balance. Only 26 per cent of search engine results containing the word ‘engineer’  featured women and 25 per cent of stock images contained female engineers (compared to 85 per cent and 81 per cent of images featuring men).

One fifth of images feature the stereotypical hard hat, fortifying out-dated opinions that engineering is only about men in hard hats working on building sites as opposed to the full range of careers available to young people today.

Supporting research among 11-16 year olds has also revealed just how influential online imagery can be. Almost a third (29 per cent) of all those surveyed believe images used to represent engineering are not relevant to them, with 28 per cent of girls saying they are too male orientated.  

While one in ten (7 per cent) girls went so far as to say that images they’ve seen online have put them off a career in engineering. The research also demonstrated that engineering companies and industry bodies are better than average at demonstrating a gender mix in the workplace.  

Jane Simpson, chief engineer at Network Rail, commented: “Our engineers wear hard hats and orange hi-vis to be safe when they are on track or on site, but they also wear business dress because they are designers, electronic specialists or project managers where they are office-based.  We are working hard on our website and in careers materials to show both sides of the role to reflect this reality and promote the varied role of an engineer.

 “We know role models are crucial to show girls and women what’s possible and so more and more, we’re showcasing the women in our business and the work they do, so others can see people like them are working successfully in engineering. As the most senior engineer at one of Britain’s biggest engineering companies I hope I can also inspire others to see the fantastic opportunities engineering offers.” 

A separate study from the Centre for Economics & Business Research (Cebr) for EngineeringUK goes on to reveal the financial benefits of becoming an engineer. The new analysis finds the net lifetime earnings premium associated with doing level 3 apprenticeships in engineering, manufacturing and technology is approximately £111,900, one of the highest amongst apprenticeship subject areas.

The study also reveals that total employment in the engineering sectors is estimated at 5.6 million, representing one in five (17.2 per cent) of all UK jobs.

Engineers Week 2015, now in its third year, will inspire young people, their parents and teachers through a host of activities based around the theme ‘Mission Inspiration.’ This will include a schedule of hands-on activities and interactive events and activities run by employers and engineers. Two young vloggers appointed especially for the week will also share exclusive YouTube content including interviews with inspiring young engineers.



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