How to attract women into engineering

Look around you and you’ll soon realise the impact engineering has on our day to day lives. From the cars we drive and the phones that connect us, to our roads, railways and recycling systems, engineers – be they mechanical, electrical, civil, chemical, software or environmental – are problem-solvers and innovators who make our lives functional and pave the way for a greener, more sustainable future.

Careers in engineering are critical in responding to global challenges and bear enormous societal value. But where are all the women?

Like most sectors, post pandemic skill scarcity is growing within the engineering space and efforts to close the gender gap has hit the brakes with women leaving the workforce at alarming rates. Despite women increasingly completing more STEM degrees than men, only 14.5% of engineers in the UK are female – the lowest percentage in Europe.

Let’s look at what’s putting women off entering or staying in the industry and what organisations can do to bring the numbers up and dispel the ‘man’s job’ myth.

It starts in school

Although we hear a lot of talk about an increased number of women studying STEM subjects at university, the truth is that only 19% of engineering students are female.

Education has a key role in changing that. As Confucius famously said, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.

Girls need to be inspired from an early age about the engineering profession and where it could take them. To begin, we need to rethink what engineering really is – it’s an incredibly broad subject area.

Engineering is about the future of society; it’s about invention. Choosing this field unlocks a gate to an exciting and varied career, and the pandemic has certainly opened more eyes to that possibility.

Research by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)  has revealed that more than half (52%) of 10-18-year-olds would consider a career in engineering after witnessing engineers build ventilators and convert buildings into much-needed hospitals during the crisis.

Employers can play a crucial role in influencing career choices early on. Children mostly look to parents and teachers for guidance on what career to choose. If they’re not aware of the wide-ranging opportunities that the field of engineering can provide, this might stop them from applying. By collaborating with primary and secondary schools to share examples of engineering, whether through direct education or liaising with careers advisors, employers can influence the next pipeline of engineering talent.

You’ve got to see it to be it…

While more women are slowly entering the engineering field, the outdated ‘man’s job’ image still largely remains. This lack of female visual representation poses one of the main challenges in encouraging gender diversity in the sector.

A report which documented the views of 11,500 girls and women across 12 European countries discovered that they were much more likely to consider a career in STEM if they had a visible role model. And with evidence that school children start becoming biased about the roles they ‘should’ do as early as six, we need to make engineering exciting for girls, from childhood through to adulthood. ‘Degendering’ the profession plays a vital role, and visual representation is one of the key success factors.

From student and staff role models to images in the media and promotional materials – if you can see it, you can be it, so ensure your company is vocal on your gender diversity goals and shine a spotlight on female colleagues.

Performance over presenteeism – adopting flexible work patterns is key to winning over female talent

We know that attracting girls and young women into the engineering profession is key to a diverse and balanced workforce, but what about retaining them? Research by the Royal Academy of Engineering shows that retaining talented women is still a major issue in the engineering profession, with 57% of female engineers dropping off the register of professional engineers before the age of 45, compared with just 17% of male engineers.

Many women still feel that they have to choose between a career and family, and this isn’t just the case for the engineering industry. The pandemic has affected women disproportionately. According to our latest report examining the 2022 labour landscape: ‘The Great Realisation: Accelerating Trends, Renewed Urgency’, over half of women (51%) are less optimistic about their career prospects now than before the pandemic, with 57% saying they plan to leave their current job within two years.

What would make them stay? Flexibility is a huge factor: 4 in 10 workers say they want fully flexible workplace options, 1 in 4 are actively looking for employers who provide benefits such as parental and caregiving leave, and 49% would move to an organisation for better wellbeing.

With this in mind, it’s clear that the future of work must work for families. It’s the employers who provide choice, flexibility and performance-over-presenteeism that will attract and keep the best and brightest.


Manpower has been a leading specialist in providing skilled engineers to our clients, both big and small, over several decades. Delivering impactful solutions at a pace and scale, we meet our clients’ unique requirements and connect businesses with their ideal new recruits. If you’re looking for the right engineering candidate for your business, get in touch with our consultants today.

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