Princesses and Engineers

Having just shared a post on why Britain needs more women engineers on Facebook I came across this post by Libby-Anne which may just, at least in part get to the root of the problem.

Britain needs more women engineers

The post on why Britain needs more women engineers says that we need more engineers and if more women could be encouraged to join the profession it would be easier to meet the target.

Industry estimates suggest Britain will need 87,000 graduate-level engineers every year between now and 2020, but only 46,000 young people are likely to be awarded degrees in engineering annually.

There is also likely to be a gap between the number of young people acquiring vocational engineering qualifications and employers’ demand for technicians.

These gaps would be much smaller if more young women opted for careers in engineering. The UK has the lowest proportion of female engineering professionals in Europe.
Later on it tries to analyse why women are not attracted to what is a well paid profession.

However, our report also shows that choices made at the age of 16 are based on attitudes and perceptions about engineering that have been formed over many years. Engineering is seen as a career for ‘brainy boys’. Intervention at the age of 16 is likely to be too late.

The key to getting more women into engineering is to make it an attractive option for girls from an early age. But at present, teachers, careers guidance, work experience and families are not doing enough to counter the view that engineering is for men, not women, and in some cases they are guilty of perpetuating it.

Which leads me to Libby-Anne’s post which she titles “What’s Your Favorite Princess?”.

She is writing from an American perspective but I don’t think that social attitudes are that different here in the UK. I don’t think that her husbands colleague who’s first question to her daughter is “What’s your favourite princess?” is sexist, just trapped by what we think of as gender norms.

She says rightly:

Yes, not every five-year-old has a favorite princess. I know, right? What a novelty! Sally does enjoy princesses, but she has other things on her mind at the moment. Frustrated but trying not to show it, I explained that Sally is more into science. Sally became immediately excited, and spent the next few minutes explaining some of her favorite scientific concepts, using the chalkboard to illustrate. Sean’s colleague quickly lost interest and drifted away before he finished.

As she is leaving she says to her husband’s colleague who is working in a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Maths) field:

“You know, one of the reasons we see a gender disparity in the maths and sciences is that people assume girls will fit into a preconceived stereotype,” I told him. “And princesses are part of that.”

And that is one of the roots of why Britain can’t recruit enough women engineers

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