Number of women leaving engineering should be a 'wake up call'

Dominic Browne

The engineering sector needs a 'wake-up call', campaigners have said after the proportion of women working in the industry fell in recent years due to many leaving.

EngineeringUK, a not-for-profit organisation that seeks to encourage more young people into the sector, found that in 2022 women represented 16.5% of those working in engineering and technology roles, but the figure fell to 15.7% in 2023.

The fall in female engineers was concentrated among women aged 35 to 44.

This is 'consistent with registration data published by the Engineering Council, which shows the average age of women leaving the profession is 43, in contrast to 60 for men', EngineeringUK said.

Analysis of the wider UK workforce does not show a similar drop or pattern of women leaving other professions.

Engineering UK chief executive Hilary Leevers said: 'We are taking this small but significant decline very seriously. Behind the percentages, are professional women with real lives and careers.

'The sector as a whole needs to better understand why women are leaving and work harder to improve their retention, including creating opportunities for those who have left the profession to return. The various government skills taskforces must also ensure retention is core to the strategies they are working on.'

She added that there were some positives in the sector, however. 

'In 2023 there were more women entering engineering and technology occupations in the 16 to 34 age groups. This indicates more women are entering the workforce straight from education and training, she said.

'I’d encourage employers to look at the good practice out there and to approach organisations like WISE, WES, Equal Engineers and the Royal Academy of Engineering who can all support women and businesses with inclusion and equity in the profession.'

Inequality in the data:

  • In 2022, there were 1,034,000 women working in engineering and technology occupations compared to 996,000 in 2023.
  • In 2023 there were more women in engineering and technology occupations between the ages of 16 to 34 - indicating that more women are entering the workforce straight from education, but are not being retained.
  • Compared to 2022, there were fewer women working in engineering and technology between the ages of 35 and 64 years.

Some major companies are pushing forward on the issue, including the world's largest engineering firm, Siemens, which has pledged to see at least 30% of women in top management by the end of 2025.

Carl Ennis, CEO of Siemens in the UK and Ireland, said: 'Having a diverse engineering sector ensures that we are better equipped to address the world's biggest problems. Major, complex challenges like sustainability requires a variety of minds, and lived experiences, contributing to solutions.

'It’s why improving gender balance, as one measure of diversity, is vital for the success of organisations across the board. It’s of course not a challenge that any business can resolve overnight but now more than ever, the sector needs to be accelerating efforts not resting on its laurels.'

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