The gender gap in the engineering sector has always been apparent — women make up just 12% of the engineering workforce — but new research from EngineeringUK
suggests that for young people in particular, the Covid-19 pandemic is deepening gender differences in career aspirations in engineering and technology.
As part of a survey, just over 1,100 young people aged 11 to 19 were asked about their attitudes and the degree to which their educational and career aspirations have been affected by the pandemic.
While, positively for the sector, a large majority of young people believe engineering had an important role to play in fighting elements of the pandemic, the gender gap when it comes to considering an engineering or technology career is still very much prevalent.
When asked whether they would be likely to consider engineering as a career, 44% of boys answered yes as opposed to just 24% of girls and that gap is even wider when it comes to technology with 65% of boys versus 37% of girls saying they would be likely to consider a career in the sector.
Results suggest that the pandemic is deepening these already existing gender differences in career aspirations, with a higher proportion of girls/young women than boys saying the pandemic has made them more likely to work in healthcare (29% versus 18%).
In contrast, a higher proportion of boys than girls/young women said the pandemic has made them more likely to work in engineering (17% versus 12%) or technology (23% versus 18%).
The research also reveals that 41% of girls compared with just 30% of boys said that the pandemic has made ‘having a positive impact on society’ more important to them when deciding on a career.
The survey also looked at whether young people searched out information online, spoke to their parents or took part in any careers activity during lockdown, with the results showing a gender disparity with girls more likely to have used the time to research their futures.
60% of girls, compared to 49% of boys had taken part in a careers activity during lockdown. 44% of girls had discussed career options with their parents, compared with 30% of boys and 27% of girls/young women compared to just 19% of boys had searched for careers information online.
Dr Hilary Leevers, EngineeringUK chief executive, said: “This survey, as well as our recent Educational pathways into engineering report, shows that now more than ever we need to work together to encourage young people from groups underrepresented in engineering and technology to progress into the sector. The survey suggests that, unless we take action, gender disparity will increase.
“Gender imbalance is not the only diversity issue in engineering and technology — we also need to address inequalities for young people from certain ethnic minority and low socio-economic backgrounds.
“More diverse workforces are more creative and resilient — two things that will be valued now more than ever, and so we have to commit to reaching out and inspiring, training and recruiting the next generation of engineers.
“STEM outreach and work experience needs to be targeted to the schools and students that need it most including those that are underrepresented in the STEM and engineering workforce and those that are most affected by the pandemic.
“We need to give young people the opportunities they deserve and, in turn, we need them to ensure the diversity of thought for a thriving future workforce.
“We ask that organisations that have been resilient to the impact of the pandemic go above and beyond, supporting young people who may join their future workforce and that of the wider system – from their supply chain to the wider economy.
“I also encourage the Government to be bold, ambitious and experimental in its support for the next generation and to treat diversity as a priority not as a ‘nice to have’. Together, we can do this and, I truly believe, make a real difference to these young people’s futures.”d
The full report, Young people and Covid-19: How the pandemic has affected careers experiences and aspirations
, is available on the Web site www.engineeringuk.com/ypcovid