According to construction charity, Be On Site, women currently represent only 11% of the construction workforce in the UK, with just 2% of those in manual work. Similarly, less than 9% of engineers in the UK are women and a disappointing 15.5% of the total STEM workforce (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) is female.
The argument that women simply have no desire to break into traditionally male-dominated industries -- and therefore it's their lack of interest that perpetuates the gender disparity -- is a flimsy one.
Certainly the roles that have long been regarded as ‘men’s’ jobs can seem prohibitive to a woman. But it is not because they pose a risk to manicured nails. As a female, entering into a world that has a longstanding reputation for misogyny and gender inequality takes guts, determination and tenacity (but not balls, thank you).
If you think this sounds a little hysterical, type ‘female construction worker’ into Google images. There’s certainly no shortage of women in hard hats and tool belts but those high-visibility corsets and micro-bikinis must surely be contravening health and safety regulations.
With such Jurassic attitudes evidently still at work, it is encouraging that this absence of women in great swathes of the country’s top industries is a hot topic for the Government Equalities Office.
Earlier this month Women and Equalities Minister Jo Swinson met with industry experts from the academic and business sector to mark the start of a new focus on getting more women and girls to choose STEM subjects and careers.
Lady Geek, a campaigning agency aimed at making technology more accessible to women, the Women's Engineering Society and the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network were just three of the organisations that joined the discussion around what more can be done to speed up action and encourage more girls and women to take up STEM.
But this discussion is just a small part of the wider campaign that has been gathering momentum, not just within STEM fields, but in many of the most heavily male-skewed industries in the UK.
Below are just some of the industries that are stepping up their game in a bid to redress the inequalities deeply embedded in their history and culture.
The number of women working in construction has risen considerably over the last two decades but namely because of their roles within HR and admin and accounting. The number of females working with their hands still stands at a measly 2%. Yet there is no evidence to suggest that women are less capable of skilled manual roles than men. Barbara Jones, who won a <a href="http://www.womeninconstructionawards.co.uk/taxonomy/term/3" target="_blank">Lifetime Achievement Award at the Women In Construction Awards in 2011</a>, has run several construction companies, including her current venture, a straw bale building firm. In a video interview for the British Library project: <a href="http://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/sisterhood/view.html#id=143437&id2=143644" target="_blank">An Oral History Of The Women's Liberation Movement</a>, she talks about the difficulties she has faced but points out that with their ability to work as a team, women can bring something new to the table.
After generating a 53,000-strong crowd for a match between Dick Kerr's Ladies and St Helen's Ladies, in 1920, <a href="http://www.thefa.com/GetIntoFootball/Players/PlayersPages/WomensAndGirls/History_of_womens_football" target="_blank">the FA pulled the rug from under the feet of women's football, by banning them from playing on Football League grounds the following year</a>. Apparently, the game was "quite unsuitable" for ladies (read: feeling threatened?). The shocking ban remained for half a century, right up until 1971. Eventually, recognising the error of their ways, the FA took control of women's football in May 1993, 20 years ago this year. To celebrate the landmark, the Association has teamed up with The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation to launch the <a href="http://www.thefa.com/News/2013/jul/kick-off-your-career" target="_blank">‘Kick Off Your Career’ campaign</a> – to encourage women and girls to turn their passion for football into a career. Although female football players are unlikely to see the excessive financial rewards of their male counterparts anytime soon, the sport has now gone semi-professional - and there are plenty of roles available in the industry but off the pitch.
For a snapshot of the sexism that still exists in the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/news/women-in-engineering" target="_blank">female engineering</a> world, look no further than the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/08/06/female-engineers-linkedin-sexism-row_n_3712555.html" target="_blank">recent sexism row that erupted between engineering firm Toptal and job networking site LinkedIn</a>. The Women's Engineering Society is upping the ante on its campaign to recruit more females into engineering roles. This month they <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-and-industry-join-forces-to-help-get-more-women-and-girls-in-stem" target="_blank">spoke to Women and Equalities minister Jo Swinson</a> and 2014 will see their inaugural <a href="http://www.wes.org.uk/" target="_blank">National Women In Engineering Day</a>.
It's the fastest growing industry in the world but the representation of women in Technology is still shamefully poor. Awards ceremonies are an important way of shining a spotlight on women's achievements in male-dominated careers. <a href="http://www.everywoman.com/techawards" target="_blank">The Everywoman in Technolgy Awards</a>, launched in 2011, showcases talented and inspirational female role models in tech. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/belinda-parmar/" target="_blank">Belinda Parmar</a>, Huffington Post blogger and the founder and CEO of <a href="http://ladygeek.com/" target="_blank">Lady Geek</a>, a campaigning agency aimed at making technology more accessible to women, recently met with Jo Swinson to discuss ways in which girls and women can be enticed into the industry.
When we think of L'Oreal we're probably more likely to think about lipstick than laboratories. In fact, many of us have cringed at that condescending line "and now for the science bit" - the prelude to some jargon-filled speech about the micro-particles and atoms in their 'miracle anti-ageing cream'. But whatever you think about the beauty industry, the cosemtics giant certainly knows a thing or two about science - and now the brand has teamed up with <a href="https://en.unesco.org/" target="_blank">UNESCO</a> to launch <a href="http://www.womeninscience.co.uk/" target="_blank">Women In Science</a>, a programme that recognises the contributions and achievements of exceptional females across the globe, by awarding promising scientists with Fellowships to help further their research.
Most big financial firms will have to set a target for the number of women on their board of directors from 2014 as part of a binding European Union Directive. This follows a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/04/10/women-in-boardrooms-firms_n_3049806.html" target="_blank">report released in April , from Cranfield University</a> that revealed women held just 17% of the board positions among the companies listed on the FTSE 100. The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/tag/parliamentary-commission-on-banking-standards" target="_blank">Commission on Banking Standards</a> also raised concerns about the gender imbalance on trading floors, in June . They said: "More women on the trading floor would be beneficial for banks," it was reported in <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-business/10129368/Banking-Commission-Trading-floors-need-more-women.html" target="_blank">The Telegraph</a>. The main UK-based banks should publish the gender breakdown of their trading operations and, where there is a significant imbalance, what they are going to do to address the issue within six months of the publication of this report and thereafter in their annual reports."
There are 300,000 truck drivers in the UK but just 1,600 (0.5%) are women. But with the continued efforts of campaign groups and industry incentives, this could soon be set to change. The <a href="http://www.everywoman.com/tlawards/about" target="_blank">FTA everywoman in Transport & Logistics Awards</a> helps to create role models for the industry with the ultimate goal of inspiring women to join the sector, providing a pipeline of talent and future industry leaders. On the morning of the 2013 Awards ceremony, everywoman held a <a href="http://www.everywoman.com/sites/all/files/ckfinder/motor_transport_17.6.13_roundtable_article.pdf" target="_blank">roundtable debate with senior leaders on practical initiatives to attract and retain female talent</a>. The <a href="http://www.fta.co.uk/" target="_blank">Freight Transport Association (FTA)</a> have also collaborated on an industry wide programme - The <a href="http://info.everywoman.com/accelerate1?hsCtaTracking=ac935e6a-cc77-410a-936b-b11551ca3e91|00436261-187b-46d8-9039-fd086b0523cc" target="_blank">FTA Accelerate Programme</a> which supports all operators in their desire to welcome a wider talent pool in the industry and support women into senior positions.