What is an engineer? Why we need to challenge the stereotype

Last updated: 19 June 2024

Engineers design the world around us. Whether it’s inventing, designing and maintaining machines, structures or data systems, there isn’t a single part of our everyday lives that isn’t touched by engineering.

Despite this, the demographic makeup of the profession does not reflect the wider world. For example, the field of engineering is one (of many) where women are hugely under-represented. To drop just a few stats:

In the U.S, women make up 27% of the STEM workforce, with this reducing to just 13% of engineering roles

In the UK the number of women working in engineering and tech has gone from 16.5% of the 2022 workforce to 15.7% of the 2023 workforce. This is driven by a fall of 66,000 workers between the ages of 35 to 64, indicating that women are not being retained.

Even though there’s been improvement in recent years, whichever way you slice the data we’re not where we need to be.

Challenging the stereotype

There are many factors that have fueled this imbalance, but it’s clear that it starts from a young age. Research from the IET found that the most prevalent reasons behind this disparity are that women are not encouraged to consider STEM careers in school (45%), and 32% are put off by the male-dominated nature of the industry.

Engineering has an image problem. Literally. If you search for ‘engineer’ or ‘engineering’ on any internet image search, you’ll see men on a construction site in high-vis jackets and hard hats.

There’s a couple of things wrong with these images:

  • Women and girls are more likely to follow a career path if they see themselves represented
  • The need to myth bust the notion of what an engineer actually is

Looking beyond the hard hat

There’s nothing wrong with the hard hats and high vis jackets – but it’s a very narrow perception of what is an extremely varied career path that could take you in many different directions.

So, in light of International Women in Engineering Day I wanted to highlight some of the different types of engineering roles that are out there:

Software Engineer: The builders of the digital world. They use their expertise in programming languages to create everything from computer games to business applications. It’s a role that combines creativity with technical skill, allowing for endless possibilities in the tech landscape.

System Engineer: They take on the challenge of making diverse components work together efficiently. Their role is crucial in ensuring that complex systems function smoothly, whether it’s in manufacturing, telecommunications, or any other industry that relies on well-integrated systems.

Cybersecurity Engineer: They are the frontline defence against online threats. They design and implement security measures to protect organisations from cyberattacks. Their work is vital in safeguarding sensitive information from unauthorised access and maintaining the integrity of our digital spaces.

Radar Frontend Engineer: They specialise in the development and enhancement of radar systems. Their work is essential in various fields, from meteorology to defence, ensuring accurate detection and tracking capabilities.

Days like International Women in Engineering Day are so important – not just to celebrate the achievements of women already in the field, but to inspire the next generation of female engineers. Highlighting the diverse range of roles and career paths that engineering can offer is just a small drop in the ocean.

This is a topic I feel very strongly about – so would love to hear any thoughts, observations or learnings in the comments.

To learn more about the various roles in engineering that we offer at Thales, please click here.

Further reading:

SC Media: ‘I went from an NHS call centre to Thales cyber director’

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