With Australia in the grip of its worst-ever engineering skills shortage, first-of-its-kind research by Engineers Australia reveals the reasons women aren’t entering the profession and what needs to be done to address the problem.
Shock findings from the Women in Engineering Report show that the biggest reason women don’t choose to study engineering is that they simply don’t know what engineering is, and what engineers do.
With the new federal government committing to both a strong women’s agenda and addressing the nation’s skills crisis, Engineers Australia chief engineer Jane MacMaster said these findings are a clarion call for swift political action to stem the gender imbalance and, drive a new generation of women engineers.
“Women make up 48 per cent of Australia’s workforce, yet account for just 13 per cent of the nation’s working engineers. Women are missing in action from the profession and this research tells us what we can do to change that,” McMaster said.
Of the 1,400 respondents, a whopping 90 per cent of women in non-engineering fields did not consider it as a valid career option. Other barriers include the perception of engineering as too ‘male-dominated’, challenging or boring; and women not feeling supported to do well in STEM subjects from as early as primary school.
With the research also revealing more than 90 per cent of girls at least partially committed to a field of study before year 11, MacMaster said this is proof early intervention and education are key.
“We need to target four main groups: schoolchildren, their parents, their teachers and careers advisors. If parents aren’t aware of the breadth of opportunities in engineering, they’re less likely to make their kids aware of it,” she said.
Australian government Women in STEM Ambassador Lisa Harvey-Smith said attracting women to engineering is critical to meeting the engineering needs of Australia’s booming economy.
“It makes no sense to ignore 51 per cent of our population in the design and construction of our infrastructure and technologies,” she said.
“Australia needs to seize this opportunity, with efforts needed in explaining the positive outcomes of engineering better so that more women want to train as engineers, but most crucially in improving the culture and work practices of the industry so that they want to stay.”