Male, high vis jacket and a hard hat? Must be an engineer

Written by: Tom Austin-Morgan | Published:

The stereotype of an engineer is alive and well amongst school children, according to new research by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

To celebrate the annual Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards, the IET has delved into the perceptions of a ‘typical engineer’. According to a representative sample of children aged 9 to 16, a typical engineer is described as a white (51%), male (67%).

In terms of the tools of the trade that engineers might have at their disposal, 44% of children thought an engineer would wear a hard hat and a high vis jacket (40%) and 43% believed they would use a laptop and a mobile phone (40%) in their everyday job. Another 39% visualised engineers using protective eye wear and carrying a toolbox (37%).

Only one in ten children describing a typical engineer as a woman. And it seems this outdated stereotyping is being passed down from parents. When asked to describe a typical engineer, they returned almost identical answers.

“These outdated and fixed ideas of what a ‘typical engineer’ looks like are damaging to the industry, especially when the significant shortage of engineers in the UK is posing a serious threat to the economy.” Said Jo Foster, IET diversity and inclusion manager. “Currently only 9% of engineers are female, the lowest in Europe. Wide ranging reasons have been cited for this lack of women, from gender stereotyping and limited female role models to misconceptions about the job itself and parental attitudes.”

To dispel these engrained ideas of what a typical engineer ‘looks like’, the IET is celebrating the 40th Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards with a campaign to showcase engineering in a different light by commissioning Rankin Studios, renowned for photographing everyone from Kate Moss and Madonna to The Queen, to style and shoot this year’s award finalists. Dubbed ‘Portrait of an Engineer’, the series was shot by award-winning photographer Vicky Lawton.

Foster added: “We want to break down the visual stereotypes and show that engineering is a diverse and creative career which offers the opportunity to do something life – or even – world changing. It also shows that you don’t need a hard hat or high vis jacket to be a ground-breaking engineer.”

Engineering contributed £486 billion to the UK GDP in 2015 and engineering jobs account for 19% of the UK’s employment total. Despite this, EngineeringUK predicts 186,000 people with engineering skills will be needed annually through to 2024 in order to meet demand.

The winner of the IET Young Women Engineer (YWE) of the Year Awards will be announced on 7th December at Savoy Place in London.

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