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Most Female Engineers Happy with Career Choice

Female Engineering Professional
In a recent survey of hundreds of women engineers, 80 percent reported that they are happy with their career choices and 98 percent said they find their careers rewarding. Associated Press

A survey of 300 female engineers from 90 different U.K. companies finds that 80 percent of respondents are happy with their careers and 98 percent find their jobs rewarding.

September 24, 2013—The number of studies analyzing why women do not choose science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers are seemingly endless. But Atkins, a global engineering firm based in the United Kingdom, has taken a different approach, conducting a survey to determine how practicing female engineers view their careers—and the results are overwhelmingly positive: 80 percent of those surveyed reported that they are happy with their career choices and 98 percent said they find their careers rewarding.

Atkins conducted the study in partnership with BP, Rolls-Royce, and the Royal Academy of Engineering. The team surveyed 300 female engineers from 90 different companies throughout the United Kingdom for the study, Britain’s Got Talented Female Engineers. The survey included questions about what inspired participants to become engineers and what firms can do to attract more female engineers. “There have been many surveys into why universities and companies don’t attract more women [in engineering], but as far as we are aware, none have consulted professional female engineers who did make that choice,” said Martin Grant, the chief executive of Atkins’ energy business, in written responses to questions posed by Civil Engineering online. “We wanted to find out how women working in [the] industry feel about their career choice and what they think we could do to attract more people.”

Among the other findings regarding how female engineers perceive their careers, 80 percent say they find working on successful project rewarding, 54 percent appreciate having the opportunity to make a difference through their work, and 72 percent relish the new challenges presented by the work they do.

While 75 percent of respondents believe that engineering is still regarded as a “male career,” 70 percent reported that being a woman has not negatively impacted their job prospects, and in fact, 17 percent said it actually helped.

When it comes to work/life balance, 79 percent of respondents said their colleagues and employers are integral to achieving that harmony. “These findings offer reassurance to the industry that, while there is a gender imbalance we must address, engineering is a worthwhile and fulfilling career for women,” Grant said.

When asked what drew them to engineering, 91 percent of respondents said they had at least one teacher who inspired them to pursue the field, and contrary to popular belief, that teacher was not always a physics teacher. In fact, many respondents did not study physics in school. Furthermore, 75 percent of respondents said they showed an interest in problem solving and fixing things at an early age, and they knew one or more engineers prior to entering the field. “Almost 4 in 10 had a family connection, most frequently their father, and eleven percent had a friend who was an engineer,” the report states. While 7 percent of respondents said they were younger than 11 when they first thought they might be interested in a career in engineering, 55 percent said they came to that realization when they were between 15 and 18 years old.

Respondents provided several thoughts on how they believe many students perceive engineering. In addition to being perceived as a male career, respondents said most students don’t understand what engineers do. In fact, 66 percent of respondents said that many people believe that engineering has to do with repairing engines, and 43 percent of respondents said many people think being an engineer requires physical strength. Additionally, more than half of the sample said they believe potential students are discouraged by the idea that engineering is “too difficult.”

Grant said the findings make it clear that the industry needs to “work with education [officials] and influence educational policy to make engineering more visible for girls and young women.”

As part of spreading the word about the work that engineers do, 77 percent of respondents said more must be done to increase the awareness of the wide range of engineering careers. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said this should be coupled with having more women engineers speaking at schools and engaging students.

On top of that, 64 percent of the sample said engineering recruiters should make greater efforts to provide more opportunities for female students to work alongside female engineers. Grant said the survey results provide critical insight as the industry seeks attract young engineers—women in particular. “As an industry, we face real challenges in the future,” Grant said. “There is a concerning lack of engineers and attracting more women into the industry is one way to help fill the gap. [Beyond that,] Atkins strongly believes a better gender balance means a better and more productive workplace and ultimately a better engineered world.”



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