The UK’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) sector has long been stereotyped as particularly male-dominated.
Roles in manufacturing, technology, and analytics have traditionally been viewed as more male focussed, and much has been publicised about their inability to attract female graduates.
However, it appears the tide is turning – particularly in engineering.
According to recent figures from STEM Women, which referenced research from UCAS data provided by HESA, and the WISE campaign, the number of women working as engineering professionals almost doubled between 2013 and 2018 to just under 58,000.
It also showed that the number of women working in STEM fields has jumped by 105,470 from 2016, taking the overall total to 900,000 for the first time.
The gender pay gap in the engineering industry, while still existent, is also smaller than the UK employee average, according to research from the Royal Academy of Engineering.
And recent A Level results show that female students studying science now outnumber males by 50.3% to 49.7%.
Apprentice engineer Stephanie Woodhouse, at Sony UK Technology Centre (UK TEC), feels that the STEM industry is certainly starting to challenge the traditional male-dominated image, and said that her place of work was absolutely leading the way for gender equality.
She said: “My team in Sony has seen an increase in the number of women since I joined over three years ago. Alongside this, we also regularly have multiple young women joining us for work experience from schools, as well as summer work placements from university.
“I personally have never experienced any issues with working in a male-focussed job, so I feel most of the problems with attitudes may come from a lack of awareness of what working in these industries is actually like.
“A lot of the young girls I have spoken to about a career in engineering don’t realise how broad the industry is, and that being an engineer doesn’t necessarily mean being covered in oil.”
Experts have suggested that a misunderstanding of what engineering roles entail – a “less-than-glamorous” representation of female engineers in the media, lack of retention and progression, and a lack of confidence in their maths and physics abilities – could be some of the things dissuading women.
For Miss Woodhouse, her choice to enter an engineering apprenticeship was driven by a desire to divert away from the traditional university route and take on a more practical career.
She said: “I was studying physics at university but ultimately I realised that wasn’t the right route for me. My brother, who had completed an engineering apprenticeship, suggested I try something similar. This was the right choice for me as it allowed me to get into the career I was looking for, while also receiving training and a wage.”
And when it came to selecting where to apply, there was only one place for Miss Woodhouse.
“Sony UK TEC is a large and well-known company, so it felt like a secure place to start my career and learn from some of the best engineers.
“Since being here, I’ve been able to learn new skills and gain a lot of knowledge, it’s a decision I absolutely haven’t regretted.”
Over the past three years the engineering apprentice has worked in the Development Engineering department, helping to further the automation within Sony UK TEC’s manufacturing processes, while also undertaking her HND in Mechanical Engineering at Bridgend College.
Throughout her time at Sony, the 23-year-old says that being in a hands-on STEM role has not only benefitted her professionally, but also as a person too.
She said: “Having the opportunity to implement the knowledge that I’m learning in college has really helped me to understand what I’m being taught.
“I’ve had the chance to see exactly what working in engineering is actually like, as well as speaking to and working with people who have been engineers for many years.
“Being able to work as part of a close team to create new machines and equipment has been a great fit for me. I love problem-solving, so seeing how my solutions have improved processes around the factory makes the time and effort invested completely worth it.
“But the biggest benefit I’ve had is how much I’ve grown as a person. Before starting my apprenticeship, I lacked confidence and found working and speaking with others quite difficult, but three years later and I hardly recognise myself.”
And thanks to her progression and satisfaction within an engineering apprenticeship, Miss Woodhouse says she would absolutely encourage more women, and anybody considering a career in a more practical field, to pursue rewarding STEM roles.
She said: “Careers in STEM-based roles give you the opportunity to solve problems on a daily basis, while also working with new and interesting technology. It’s an involved industry that really makes you feel like what you do makes a difference.
“I think an engineering role can be incredibly worthwhile for both men and women who are looking for a rewarding career. So, I would say go for it! What have you got to lose?”