Thursday, 13 February 2014

Addressing the Engineering Gender Balance Issue

Engineering underpins human progress. Engineering is about the practical delivery of scientifically informed solutions for the great challenges and opportunities in a rapidly changing world.

It is therefore surprising that females are not as much part of this challenge as males. I know in 2009 the percentage of females as members of Engineers Ireland was approximately 9%. In the same year, the UK Engineering Council reported that 'fewer than 13% of new Chartered Engineers were women'.
UCD EGA members attending the Engineers Ireland Young Engineers Ball October 2013
UCD reports this year that the percentage of females in the First Year class has fallen to 15% in 2013. In the 1970s I know that the percentage of female engineering students in UCD was approximately 1% but it grew rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s to some 20% - 30% on average.

This is an issue nationally and internationally that needs to be addressed. When I visited UCC and UL as President of Engineers Ireland in 2012 I was informed of concerns on lack of gender balance in the engineering student balance in both colleges.

On the other hand, the University of Sydney reports in May 2012 'mid year female graduates of engineering and information technologies experiencing record numbers'. So it’s not a universal issue on a global scale.

Sisters Isobel, Merrilyn and Rebecca James at University of Sydney Engineering
and IT Department are part of a growing number of female engineering students

There are many reasons put forward for the lower participation of females in the engineering profession. Factors involved include:

   Lack of emphasis on STEM subjects taught at second level in girls schools

   Cultural perceptions of women

   Influence of family attitudes

   Favoured career/life balance

   Variations depending on various branches of engineering and science
In general terms there appears to be a predominance of males in the physics, engineering and IT areas while the reverse is the case with social science and life sciences generally.
My own personal experience is one favouring a 50:50 male:female balance as achievable as the technical and project management skills of both genders are manifestly equal and need to be recognised as such. Engineers Ireland recognised this ideal balance in the widely acclaimed TV advert on 'Chartered Engineer - bringing dreams to life for me and you'. Click here to see TV advert.

Biomedical Engineer Claire Lillis from the Engineers Ireland
Chartered Engineer TV advert - 'These things were made for me and you’
The EGA are concerned at the developing gender balance issue at UCD Engineering and will set up a Board Subcommittee to make recommendations to address the current situation.