Online images ‘putting girls off engineering’

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 has found a host of organisations, including universities, media outlets and search engines are all guilty of reinforcing engineering stereotypes through their choice of images online.

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

  • Four in ten ‘people pictures’ online related to engineering depict women.
  • Stock image sites and search engines were the most likely to use males to depict engineering. 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).
  • Universities were 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. Engineering UK says this outdated stereotype reinforces the idea that engineering is only about men in hard hats working on building sites.

Images are male orientated

EngineeringUK also surveyed 11-16 year olds and found almost a third of young people believe images used to represent engineering are not relevant to them, with 28% of girls saying they are too male orientated. Almost one in 10 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.”

Role models

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, said: “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 shows 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 per cent) of all UK jobs.

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