Dr Kate Coleman looks at some of the issues surrounding the underrepresentation of women in engineering.
It is well reported that women remain underrepresented in the UK engineering workforce. Although numbers have risen over the last decade, in 2021, EngineeringUK reported that women made up just 14.5% of UK engineers, compared to 47.7% in the workforce overall.
Every April, all employers with a workforce of 250 or more staff are required to report their gender pay gap. This is the difference in hourly earnings for all men and all women across an organisation. It is an indicator of gender parity within a workforce: the more men in senior roles (or roles with higher pay), the larger the pay gap (or vice versa).
The gender pay gap overall in the UK in 2022 was reported as 15.4%, meaning that the average woman works for nearly two months of the year for free compared to the average man. For women aged 22-29, the pay gap was reported as 3.9% in 2021. For women aged 30-39, this jumps to 11.8%. By the age of 40, the gap is 21.3% – and it never recovers.
The proportion of male to female graduates entering the engineering workforce is similar (56% vs 52%); however, data shows that 57% of female engineers drop off the professional register under the age of 45, compared to just 17% of male engineers. Clearly, as evidenced by this, and the widening pay gap above the age of 30, retention of women in the industry is poor.
What can be done? The Royal Academy of Engineering encourages engineering employers to go beyond the government mandated requirements and then report on the actions being taken. It lists a comprehensive set of research-based recommendations, including ensuring a transparent pay and progression policy, publicised salary bands and the publication and implementation of a credible action plan.
The engineering industry has a significant skills shortfall. In 2019, EngineeringUK forecast an annual demand for 124,000 engineers and technicians and a shortfall between 37,000 and 59,000 in meeting the demand for core skilled engineering roles. Between 2014 and 2024, 13 million jobs will open up across the economy as a result of those leaving, and a further 1.8 million as a result of expansion (newly created roles). The issues of underrepresentation of women in engineering, and the gender pay gap, are complex and will take concerted effort from industry and other sectors alike to solve but solve them we must. For the future of our industry, we cannot afford not to.
 “Closing the engineering gender pay gap”, Royal Academy of Engineering & WISE, 2020
 “The State of Engineering 2019”, EngineeringUK, 2019