‘Cyber sexism’ putting girls off engineering careers

According to recent research from EngineeringUK, online images still portray engineering as a job for the boys, leading to girls being put off potentially well-paid and exciting careers.

The study, released to mark the start of Tomorrow’s Engineers Week 2015, has found a host of organisations, including universities, media outlets and search engines are all guilty of reinforcing engineering stereotypes through their choice of images online.

The analysis of engineering-related imagery from across more than 70 popular websites found that 42% of pictures online related to engineering depict women.

Chief executive of EngineeringUK Paul Jackson said: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, it is extremely worrying that cyber sexism is rife when it comes to the depiction of engineers on websites used by young people.”

Stock image sites and search engines are the worst culprits, majorly lagging behind other sites on gender balance. Image searches for the term ‘engineer’ found 26% of search engine results featured women and 25% of stock images contained female engineers (compared to 85% and 81% of images featuring men).

Universities are the best at portraying gender balance in the sector, with 53% of images including a woman and 80% including a male.

One fifth of images feature the stereotypical hard hat - fortifying out-dated opinions that engineering is only about men in hard hats working on building sites as opposed to the full range of careers available to young people today.

Supporting research among 11 to 16 year olds has also revealed how influential online imagery can be. 29% of those surveyed believe images used to represent engineering are not relevant to them, with 28% of girls saying they are too male orientated. 7% of girls went so far as to say that images they’ve seen online have put them off a career in engineering.

Jackson added: “In the next decade employers will need 1.82m people with engineering skills, meaning we need to double the number of apprentices and graduates entering the industry. We cannot afford to lose would-be engineers by carelessly reinforcing stereotypes and not showing the full scope of exciting careers available.”

The research also demonstrated that engineering companies and industry bodies are better than average at demonstrating a gender mix in the workplace.

A separate study from the Centre for Economics & Business Research (Cebr) for EngineeringUK goes on to reveal the financial benefits of becoming an engineer. The new analysis finds the net lifetime earnings premium associated with doing level 3 apprenticeships in engineering, manufacturing and technology is approximately £111,900, one of the highest amongst apprenticeship subject areas.

The study also reveals that total employment in the engineering sectors is estimated at 5.6million, representing 17.2% of all UK jobs.

Tomorrow’s Engineers Week 2015, now in its third year, will inspire young people, their parents and teachers through a host of activities based around the theme ‘Mission Inspiration’. This will include a schedule of hands-on activities and interactive events and activities run by employers and engineers. Two young vloggers appointed especially for the Week will also share exclusive YouTube content including interviews with inspiring young engineers.