Many girls still believe engineering is a “job for boys”, according to survey results announced this week.
Engineering is second only to the construction industry in struggling to overcome the gender divide, the survey found.
Some 39%of 12-17-year-old girls think certain jobs are more suited to boys. Of those, 40% cited engineering, with 58% naming building and construction. Finance was rated the third most “male” job at 29%.
The findings of the poll, carried out by National Rail, of 500 school-aged girls underlines concerns that employers are missing talent because of entrenched attitudes from both sexes.
Network Rail’s chief executive, Mark Carne, pledged a “war on the macho culture of the rail industry”.
Jane Simpson, interim director of safety, technical and engineering at Network Rail has first hand experience of gender bias, which she also became aware of while she was still at school. “If my school career adviser had her way, I would have become a nursery nurse or teacher,” she said. Instead Jane joined the engineering industry as an apprentice aged 16 and now manages a 500+ strong team of (mostly male) engineers and technicians.
She said: “Now, I see myself as just another member of the team, but it wasn’t always that way. When I became the first female overhead line engineer on the railway in the 1990s, male colleagues were alarmed to say the least, and I experienced some really sexist attitudes. However, I’m really glad I went through it as I’m using that experience to help re-design our graduate recruitment strategy and replace unattractive images of men on track with messages and imagery that appeal to both sexes.”
Loraine Martins, director of diversity and inclusion at Network Rail said of the research: “It’s no secret that the engineering sector in particular is male dominated and trouble attracting talented women into its sector, and organisations like ours are making a concerted effort to change that.
“This research shows that even girls aged 12 are sensitive to stereotypes, and are ruling themselves out of particular jobs. We must put as much energy into tackling bias whilst girls are still in education, as we do into overcoming gender bias issues in the workplace.”
Network Rail has a 14% female workforce and has pledged to increase this with a three pronged approach to drive change within the organisation which includes plans to attract more female graduates, so that 30% of the intake are female by 2019, and a strategy to retain more women by tackling deep rooted cultural issues and making the workplace more transparent and welcoming.
The organisation also plans to introduce a strategy to support the career development of women already at Network Rail in achieving senior level positions – with CEO Mark Carne setting a target that 20% of its talent pool of future leaders will be female by 2019.