Retention of women in science, engineering and technology (SET) is an important issue, with economic and social justice implications. The overall retention rate of female SET graduates is far lower than that of males, 25% compared with 40%. The situation, which contributes to the relative lack of women in senior positions in SET professions, is sometimes described as “the leaky pipeline”.
There are many possible explanations for the leaky pipeline, but where is the greatest leak, and what can be done?
This project, funded since 2013 by the Royal Academy of Engineering, looked to extend the work and data gathered as part of Set to Lead Project, a project led by UCL Engineering and supported by HE STEM. This project surveyed nearly 5000 engineering students across the UK. The output report 'Jobs for the boys?' noted that although men and women in engineering courses have similar career aspirations and women engineering students are achieving more first and upper second degrees than their male colleagues, male students secure more jobs in engineering roles.
As part of the WES Diversity in Engineering project, further analysis was carried out of the Set to Lead data augmented by data provided by HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) and supplemented by information from a series of focus groups held at Sheffield Hallam, Aston and Cardiff Universities. The focus was on the influence of gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic factors on the destinations of leavers from HE.
The second part of the Diversity in Engineering aimed to share the ‘voices’ of early career engineers, students and young women. More on this and the resulting resources can be found on the WES Voices project page.
One of the key findings from Diversity in Engineering is that once students have made the transition to higher education to study engineering and technology subjects, gender is a more significant factor than social class in determining occupation types.
The main and the summary reports, written by Sean McWhinnie and Jan Peters and with foreword by Meg Munn MP, WES Patron and champion of women in STEM, are available to download here:
These reports are essential reading for all the groups and organisations promoting engineering and technology as a career.