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Breaking the stereotype of the white male engineer

To mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11 February, experts shared their thoughts from a recent Parliamentary roundtable on breaking the male stereotype of engineering.

A roundtable consisting of politicians, academics and business leaders took place in November 2018 to discuss the findings of a new report from the Skills Commission, A Spotlight on Women in Engineering.

It is estimated that nearly 200,000 people with engineering skills will be needed annually through to 2024 in order to meet demand in the UK. However, engineering and manufacturing has not kept up with the progress on diversity and inclusion seen in other sectors, making it difficult to fill the skills gap.

On 11 February, The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) shared views from a number of experts following the roundtable debate.

Jo Foster, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), said:

“Engineering can be perceived as masculine, unglamorous and often depicts people wearing hard hats and overalls. The reality is very different.

“It is important that the engineering profession is seen as welcoming and inclusive to all, where everybody has an equal opportunity to succeed. Advocating Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in engineering is a crucial element in addressing the skills shortage that currently threatens the UK industry.”

One of the key recommendations in the Skills Commission report was that large employers in the sector include EDI requirements in procurement from their immediate supply chain.

The roundtable also recommended that more organisations sign up to ‘blind recruitment’ processes and follow an agreed language that is accessible to diverse groups.

While a large part of the discussion focused on the barriers preventing young girls from accessing engineering education at school, Hayaatun Sillem, Chief Executive of The Royal Academy of Engineering, added:

“If we keep thinking about 'growing everyone from scratch’, the pace of change is not going to be acceptable. So why don't we be much more creative and innovative in terms of how we bring people into the profession? Why do we think if you've missed the opportunity to join a profession by the age of 14-15, that's it for you?”

The roundtable agreed that business, government, the education sector and the media all have a role to play in tackling the issue.

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