COVID-19 widens gender gap on engineering and tech career choices

The gender gap in the engineering sector has always been there, women make up just 12 per cent 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 or technology.

As part of the 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 per cent of boys/young men answered yes as opposed to just 24 per cent of girls/young women and that gap is even wider when it comes to technology with 65 per cent of boys/young men vs 37 per cent of girls/young women 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/young men saying the pandemic has made them more likely to work in healthcare (29% v 18%). In contrast, a higher proportion of boys/young men than girls/young women said the pandemic has made them more likely to work in engineering (17 per cent v 12 per cent) or technology (23 per cent v 18 per cent).

Results also reveal that 41 per cent of girls/young women compared with just 30 per cent of boys/young men 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/young women more likely to have used the time to research their futures. 60 per cent of girls/young women, compared to 49 per cent of boys/young men had taken part in a careers activity during lockdown. 44 per cent of girls/young women had discussed career options with their parents, compared with 30 per cent of boys/young men and 27 per cent of girls/young women compared to just 19 per cent of boys had searched for careers information online.

Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive of EngineeringUK says: ‘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”.

The findings report, Young people and Covid-19: How the pandemic has affected careers experiences and aspirations, is available here.

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