The Engineering Professions in the UK: Women Students' Perspectives
Engineering in the UK has a popular image of being tough, heavy and dirty and has helped to reproduce occupational segregation whereby engineering has been perceived as unsuitable for women. Despite these widely held views, some women do decide to study engineering with the possibility of pursuing a career in the sector (in 2002/03 15% of engineering and technology students were female1). However, research suggests that increases in the number of women studying engineering and related courses have not been matched by a similar increase in women engineering professionals. This paper therefore addresses women engineering students' perceptions of the engineering sector for two reasons. Firstly, to explore how these women's views of engineering differ from society's perception that engineering is a masculine domain. Secondly, to analyse whether these views change as students progress through engineering education and their industrial placement, and if they do, the impact this has on career intentions. The industrial placement is particularly significant given that it is usually women's first major contact with their chosen professional and also a key transitional stage in their career. These issues will be examined using the findings of a larger Economic and Social Research Council funded study exploring the impact of women engineering students' workplace experiences on their career intentions. Specifically, the research presented uses qualitative, semi-structured interviews with forty-eight female students. The paper concludes by explaining how the findings will be built upon in future stages of the research in which a practical guidance document identifying initiatives to improve women's careers in engineering will be developed.
Keywords: Women students, Engineering, Career
Prof. Barbara Bagilhole
Associate Dean Research, Professor of Equal Opportunities and Social Policy, Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University