Cyber sexism deterring girls from engineering

Paul Boughton

Online images still portray engineering as a job for the boys, leading to girls being put off potentially well-paid and exciting careers, according to new research from EngineeringUK.

The study, released to mark the start of Tomorrow’s Engineers Week 2015 (2-6 November), has found a host of organisations, including universities, media outlets, search engines are all guilty of reinforcing engineering stereotypes through their choice of images online.

The analysis [1] of engineering-related imagery from across more than 70 popular websites found:

* Four in 10 (42%) ‘people pictures’ online related to engineering depict women.

* Stock image sites and search engines are the worst culprits, majorly lagging behind other sites on gender balance. Image searches for the term “engineer’ found just 26% of search engine results featured women and 25% of stock images contained female engineers (compared to 85% and 81% of images featuring men) [2].

* Universities are the best at portraying gender balance in the sector, with 53% of images including a woman and 80% including a male.

* One fifth of images feature the stereotypical hard hat - fortifying out-dated opinions that engineering is only about men in hard hats working on building sites as opposed to the full range of careers available to young people today.

Supporting research among 11-16 year olds has also revealed just how influential online imagery can be. [3]

Almost a third (29%) of all those surveyed believe images used to represent engineering are not relevant to them, with 28% of girls saying they are too male orientated.

Almost one in ten (7%) girls went so far as to say that images they’ve seen online have put them off a career in engineering.

Chief Executive of EngineeringUK Paul Jackson said: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, it is extremely worrying that cyber sexism is rife when it comes to the depiction of engineers on websites used by young people.

“Engineers shape the world we live in and are behind many of the amazing everyday things we take for granted. Engineering isn’t just about men in hard hats.

“In the next decade employers will need 1.82m people with engineering skills, meaning we need to double the number of apprentices and graduates entering the industry. We cannot afford to lose would-be engineers by carelessly reinforcing stereotypes and not showing the full scope of exciting careers available.

“As part of Tomorrow’s Engineers Week 2015 we are calling on all organisations to look carefully at how they represent engineering and stop using these out-dated, gender stereotypical pictures.

“We need to inspire, not discourage, young people to consider engineering as their future career.”

The research also demonstrated that engineering companies and industry bodies are better than average at demonstrating a gender mix in the workplace.

Jane Simpson, chief engineer at Network Rail, commented: “Our engineers wear hard hats and orange hi-vis to be safe when they are on track or on site, but they also wear business dress because they are designers, electronic specialists or project managers where they are office-based.  We are working hard on our website and in careers materials to show both sides of the role to reflect this reality and promote the varied role of an engineer.

“We know role models are crucial to show girls and women what’s possible and so more and more, we’re showcasing the women in our business and the work they do, so others can see people like them are working successfully in engineering. As the most senior engineer at one of Britain’s biggest engineering companies I hope I can also inspire others to see the fantastic opportunities engineering offers.”

A separate study from the Centre for Economics & Business Research (Cebr) for EngineeringUK goes on to reveal the financial benefits of becoming an engineer. The new analysis finds the net lifetime earnings premium associated with doing level 3 apprenticeships in engineering, manufacturing and technology is approximately £111,900, one of the highest amongst apprenticeship subject areas.

The study also reveals that total employment in the engineering sectors is estimated at 5.6 million, representing one in five (17.2%) of all UK jobs. [4]

Tomorrow’s Engineers Week 2015, now in its third year, will inspire young people, their parents and teachers through a host of activities based around the theme ‘Mission Inspiration’. This will include a schedule of hands-on activities and interactive events and activities run by employers and engineers.

Website type Gender balance of ‘people pictures’ [2] Percentage of images featuring hard hats

Stock images           Women in picture: 25%

Men in picture:  81%


Search engines

Women: 26%

Men: 85%



Women: 35%

Men: 81%


Careers sites

Women: 41%

Men: 75%


Engineering companies

Women: 46%

Men: 78%


Industry bodies

Women: 47%

Men: 69%



Women: 53%

Men: 80%


[1] 71 websites and 4000+ images were reviewed by EngineeringUK from a range of organisations encompassing engineering industry bodies, the engineering faculty pages of some of the UK’s top universities, national online media outlets, stock image sites, search engines, popular careers/job sites and also the careers pages of the UK’s top engineering employers. For stock image sites and search engines the first 100 image results from the search term “engineer’ were audited. Media outlets were audited through a selection of engineering related articles appearing online between 1 August 2015 and 30 September 2015.

[2] Numbers do not add to 100% as where both a male and a female were depicted, the image was counted as having both genders portrayed.

[3] Bilendi interviewed 500 11-16 year olds from 2nd to 5th September 2015 on behalf of EngineeringUK.

[4] Report for EngineeringUK by the Centre for Economics & Business Research (Cebr) - Productivity and lifetime earnings impacts of engineering education & training

Tomorrow’s Engineers Week takes place from 2-6 November 2015 and aims to change perceptions of engineering among young people, their parents and teachers and to inspire future engineers. 



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