The gender imbalance in the UK engineering sector is a source of embarrassment, and the country is lagging behind its neighbours, according to the CEO of the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Only about 10 per cent of the engineers employed by British engineering companies are women, placing the UK behind every other European country. The next-closest is Italy, with 20 per cent of employees being women, followed by Sweden (26 per cent), Latvia, Cyprus and Bulgaria (30 per cent).
Hayaatun Sillem, who leads the Royal Academy, told The Guardian that she feels "almost ashamed" to have to speak about these statistics after "decades of effort".
"Engineers have a huge role in designing the infrastructure of the world around us and designing algorithms embedded in the world around us. It cannot be healthy that they don't reflect the broader society that those algorithms and that infrastructure serves."
While other countries have made progress, and the UK is performing better in other industries like medicine, the perception of British engineering is still "a white man in a hard hat".
Sillem says that this perception has made it difficult to attract new applicants, who cannot see themselves on a building site. In reality, the engineering sector also contributes to advancements in artificial intelligence, medical technologies and other industries.
The imbalance is also reflected amongst existing students, with only about 15 per cent in the UK being female. The Academy is hoping to launch a new campaign soon to communicate the realities of modern engineering to students.
Sillem said that, as in the tech industry, the culture at large firms - which have been described as old-boy networks - may be turning off prospective applicants.
"We've had some interesting insights into the culture at some of the big tech companies," she said. "I don't think it's rational to decouple that from the lack of diversity ... there's highly likely to be a connection."
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