Engineering has long been a career that is typically dominated by men, and despite the efforts of many businesses and initiatives to change this, it’s taking time to redress the gender balance. Today, only 12% of all engineers are women – yet the sector is currently facing a huge skills shortfall, estimated at between 37,000 and 59,000 engineers. This partly comes from fewer girls than boys choosing to study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects at school and university, but it also boils down to a lack of representation in engineering, meaning that many girls don’t even consider it as a career. To coincide with International Women in Engineering Day on June 23, Intelligent CXO spoke to ten senior technology experts to identify what challenges the sector faces in recruiting women, and how businesses and educational institutions can work together to encourage more girls on to this path.
Diversity is key, so more opportunities are crucial
Debra Danielson, Chief Technology Officer and SVP of Engineering at Digital Guardian, said: “Diversity is essential – both at the team level and in the boardroom. It’s critical that we create a culture in engineering where team members understand how they contribute to the success of the organisation – and where they enjoy appropriate levels of autonomy in getting there. Diversity in the boardroom is just as important – I can’t stress that enough. For one thing, it’s the right thing to do. Moreover, corporate boards that promote diversity of culture, thinking and perspective produce better outcomes – more innovation, enhanced decision making and an improved workforce culture.”
Caroline Seymour, Vice President, Product Marketing at Zerto also acknowledged that “there are still some challenges women need to overcome, especially in STEM. For several reasons, these fields are still male-dominated.”
She added: “There were very few women in tech when I began my career, and while this has certainly increased over the years it is still predominantly a male-dominated industry. There is most definitely a huge opportunity here for women, especially within the engineering, software, cybersecurity, cloud and AI sectors.”
Education is an excellent starting point
Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President EMEA at Skillsoft emphasised that we need to dismantle the barriers presented to women in engineering.
“Research shows that even from primary school age, girls are significantly less likely than boys to view themselves as capable of being an engineer if they wanted to. If we want to see more women in engineering, then we need to change the way we see women and how they see themselves.
“Organisations should identify more talented women and the best career paths to accelerate their growth and progression. When there are very few or no female candidates to consider, they must also ask themselves why and change the approach accordingly.”
Angela Garland, Escalations Engineer at Content Guru agreed, and cited research from EngineeringUK which found that ‘in the 16 to 19 age range, just a quarter of girls say they would ever consider a career in engineering, compared to more than half of boys’.
“My advice to young girls thinking about a career in tech is to go for it. The most important thing is to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, speak up in large groups of men and put your ideas out there. Find an organisation that puts everyone – regardless of gender – on an equal playing field and pushes you into a role where you challenge yourself and those around you.”
“With early exposure, kids, particularly girls, are more likely to pursue the career when they reach college-level age and beyond,” advised Ronit Polak, VP of Engineering at Exabeam.
She continued: “Different perspectives support better innovation – the core of the engineering way of life. When individuals within an engineering team all look the same, act the same and come from the same backgrounds, end-users may not get the best solution. Encouraging women, starting at a young age, to pursue engineering provides varied perspectives to attract various customers.”
Olivia Collier, Software Engineer at ThycoticCentrify shared her experiences: “When I was going through school, I had originally started out in nursing and then transferred to physical therapy. After completing observation hours, I realised the career was not for me and went back to the drawing board. I always had a knack for computers, and my husband encouraged me to try a course.
“Programming and other forms of engineering are like a giant puzzle that you get to solve. The field is an excellent confidence booster, and I encourage young women looking into a career in engineering to always ask questions. Do not settle until you’ve found the niche in engineering that you shine in.”
…But education isn’t the only starting point
“There is absolutely no reason why women can’t succeed in STEM subjects – and we’ve seen this skills base grow in the UK from GCSE up to graduate and postgraduate level. But it’s not just about academic success,” explained Hugh Scantlebury, Founder and CEO at Aqilla. “We need to champion women who have a natural affinity for engineering or practical experiences but don’t have formal academic qualifications – and support them in their desire to be engineers too. There’s more than one path to success in this sector, and we need to make sure that we’re open to them all.”
Mini Biswas, Pre-Sales Manager at Node4, also identified how businesses can make simple changes, such as with job adverts:
“If a tech company was to offer a role that specifically outlined that it was open to men and women – be it full time, part time or on flexible hours – they would have much more success in receiving female applications. A lot of women will look at a tech role and naturally assume it’s not right for them. That thinking needs to be wiped away.
“This isn’t to say that organisations are solely responsible for the low amount of women in tech. There are so many amazing women out there who don’t have the confidence to make the jump or to go for more senior positions. It’s okay for women to think they can go into senior roles.”
Role models are vital to pave the way
“I think a key reason for the low number of women in technology can be attributed to a lack of role models and mentors,” said Svenja de Vos, Chief Technology Officer at Leaseweb Global. “There simply aren’t enough. To change perceptions, more female role models are needed who, supported by practical initiatives like training, open days and internship opportunities, can help to create a good image for the tech industry as a sector that’s fun and rewarding to work in. As our world becomes increasingly defined by tech, now is the time for the tech industry to create and elevate more female role models who can open the way for young girls to follow in their footsteps.”
Agnes Schliebitz-Ponthus, SVP Product at Fluent Commerce recalled how the senior women she worked under at Amazon HQ in Seattle “worked extremely hard and motivated me to push myself more to perfect my programming and software engineering skills. And now at Fluent Commerce, I’m surrounded by an equally inspiring team working to the common goal of helping retailers adapt quickly to the rapidly changing world of e-commerce.”
She concluded: “When women are supported by role models of their own gender, there is much to gain. I’m one of the lucky ones and I want to encourage more women to realise the possibilities within a STEM-focused career. Raising awareness and showcasing successful female role models within the industry is paramount if girls are to realise the possibilities of a future in STEM.”Click below to share this article