Recent research using UCAS data has shown that in the last 10 years, female undergraduate applications for engineering courses has increased by 96%.
Nevertheless, university engineering courses still receive four times more applications from males. In 2021 the number of female applicants was 29,650 while the number of male applicants reaching 125,320 so despite the encouraging increase in applications, the gender gap remains significant.
Interestingly, it appears that interest and applications for places on teaching, medicine and dentistry courses have risen, possibly as a consequence of the way these professions gained exposure during the pandemic.
However, though gender equality in society is progressing in many ways, societal expectations and assumptions may still disproportionately inform the choices that girls make throughout school and into higher education. Medicine, dentistry and teaching are historically deemed ‘appropriate’ roles for women – traditionally reflecting more altruistic, caring attributes – whereas engineering, historically, is a field considered more suitable for men.
Information is key. The world is facing huge global challenges in terms of global warming and climate change, energy, healthcare, and food. All of these essential areas create numerous, global opportunities and potential careers for people, irrespective of gender, which are required to engineer solutions.
The higher the profile of female scientists, the more girls and women will be inspired to follow an educational and career path in crucial areas of engineering rather than follow a career path they think they should which has been informed by historical social stereotypes.
Female engineering role models need to be upheld until a potential career in engineering is as attractive and automatic a career choice to girls and women as the more traditionally female orientated professions such as teaching and medicine.