Civil engineering is a field that has traditionally been dominated by men and nowhere is this more the case than in the UK. Women comprise just 12% of UK engineers. That is the lowest proportion in Europe.
In Spain, the gender split is almost equal. Engineering is seen as more of a prestigious profession on the European continent, whereas in the UK it’s still perceived as less glamourous than the associated profession of architecture, for example. This view of engineering, as being lower grade, is inhibiting both boys and girls from entering the profession. It’s a situation where the remnants of gender stereotypes that have plagued the industry are amplified for young women.
Engineering does have an image problem in the UK. Partly this is due to the confusion about what exactly an engineer is. It can be anyone from a washing machine repair person, to a highly qualified civil engineer who manages the construction of an underground railway. In Spain, the title is protected and only available to those who have completed 6 years of university education. It is viewed as a similar level of achievement to becoming a Doctor, or lawyer and is a respected profession. Engineering in the UK needs to rebrand itself and make itself more appealing to all young people, and especially women.
Why does all this matter? Here are 4 reasons why we need more female civil engineers.
Diversity gets better results
Civil engineers are the ultimate problem solvers. They build our infrastructure: buildings, bridges, railways, wastewater systems, and more. And if we know anything about solving problems, we know that a group will always come up with a better solution than an individual and that a gender-diverse group will always come up with a better solution than a non-diverse group. The paltry proportion of women in the profession means that we are not just skimping on equality, we are also skimping on potential quality.
There is a skills shortage
There is a shortfall of around 50,000 candidates for engineering roles each year in the UK. That’s quite an astonishing figure. This civil construction company, like 50% of other engineering companies, reports that they are facing a shortage of suitable candidates.
This skills shortage is exacerbated by demographic factors. It is an aging profession, with almost 20% of all engineers due to retire within the next 5 years.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if the number of women in the profession moved up from 12% to closer to equal then that would go a good way towards closing the skills gap.
It is important for the economy and society
We are in a time of massive technological change. The shift beyond fossil fuels to cleaner technologies will require a full cohort of highly qualified and motivated civil engineers. This will include building the clean and renewable energy infrastructure including on and off-shore wind and solar and other emerging technologies. It includes a smarter road and rail system. And it includes buildings with better insulation and connections. In a pandemic safe future, it also means an infrastructure that keeps the population safe and well ventilated.
We need more engineers to deliver those innovations and transformations for a better future.
Engineering is all about turning ideas into reality. It is a highly creative and innovative industry that truly shapes the world we live in.
Civil engineers are responsible for creating the structures that make up our world. That includes structures that protect us, like flood barriers, sewage systems and cycle routes. It includes structures that power the world, like wind turbine fields, hydroelectric dams and gas pipelines. It includes the world’s transport linkages, including airports, shipping ports and harbours, railways, bridges, tunnels and road networks. And of course, it includes the building we live, work, celebrate and spectate within.
The ability to design these items with an end goal in mind means that they will be used and appreciated by society. This can create great job satisfaction for any civil engineer who has completed their project successfully.
More women in this type of profession could also help to close the gender pay gap. The average salary for an engineer in the UK is £45,000 per annum. That is 52% higher than the average UK salary. Engineering salaries can also go up to over £110,000. When you factor high job security and job satisfaction into the equation, it’s easy to see why more women should consider a career in civil engineering.
Those are just a few of the reasons why we need more female civil engineers. In a nutshell: it’s good for women, good for the profession and vital for our economy and society.