Even in this day and age where the barriers between the genders are constantly being eroded, there is still a very clear disparity in representation in one of the must critical job areas.
For some time, engineering has been one of the most important – and most lacking in skilled talent – career paths around the world. Especially in a country such as Australia, where mining has long been a key pillar of the economy, ensuring there is a consistent pipeline of engineering talent is essential.
The dearth of skilled engineers Down Under has been a major issue in recent years, however. According to the 2014 Hays Salary Guide, engineering represents one of the largest area of skills shortage in Australia, with almost one in 10 employers saying they have struggled to recruit for junior to mid management engineering roles.
A large reason behind this is likely due to the lack of women studying towards the profession – the ‘An analysis of the gender wage gap in the Australian graduate labour market, 2013’ report from Graduate Careers Australia (GCA) highlights the “over-representation of males in fields of education that typically had higher starting salaries, such as engineering”.
Conversely, GCA pointed out that there was an over-representation of females in study areas that led to careers at the lower end of the salary bracket, such as the humanities.
The problem runs much further back than higher education, however, as not enough girls are engaging at school in the study of mathematics and science – key skills for a career in engineering. So what steps can schools and other education providers take to encourage more girls to study these critical subjects, and perhaps pursue an engineering career in the future?
Everyone needs a role model
There are few things that can affect the impressionable minds of young children as effectively as a good role model. If students have someone they can look up to – someone with real-life experiences and who can demonstrate the success they have met – they can have a clear goal to work towards.
One of the reasons young females are disinterested in mathematics and science could simply be that they don’t know of any women who have succeeded in these areas. Giving successful female engineers more visibility – for example, inviting them to talk at schools and career fairs – could be the impetus needed to spark girls’ interest in this career path.
Schools can also draw attention to the achievements of famous female scientists, such as Marie Curie, to encourage girls from a young age.
Dispel the skills stereotypes
Even if they have an interest in the subject, girls can be discouraged from pursing their study if they feel they’re not up to the challenge – and negative stereotypes surrounding skills can have a toxic impact on anyone.
It’s important to debunk the common myths, such as that mathematics, science and engineering are ‘boys-only’ subjects, from an early age to prevent any misconceptions from taking hold.
It’s equally as important to promote the idea that skills and abilities are not set in stone – and can be nurtured with the right education, training and motivation. Getting this notion across to girls will help ensure they aren’t put off taking on these subject areas, and instil the belief they can pick up any skills with the right dedication.
Provide feedback and promote development
As with any subject area, it’s essential to provide ongoing feedback to students and place a focus on improvement and development.
Make it clear that there is no set of skills or knowledge that can’t be improved with conscious effort. Emphasise the positives when giving feedback, providing directions for growth in the future.