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How Do We Tackle Outdated Career Stereotypes and Get Parents to Say: 'My Daughter Wants to Be an Engineer When She Grows Up'?

13/04/2015 11:43 BST | Updated 09/06/2015 10:59 BST

'Gender parity' in the workplace - and, in fact, all places - regularly tops news agendas. And we engineers are certainly no strangers to gender stereotypes. Despite a number of credible campaigns to raise awareness of the issue in recent years, and champion the industry as a diverse and creative career path for women as well as men, females still make up just six per cent of the UK's engineering workforce - one of the lowest figures in Europe.

What else then can we do to tackle this deficit - and attract more women to the industry? It makes sense to ask ourselves why there are so few female engineers in the UK. There are already all kinds of thoughts on the answer to this question: both evidenced and anecdotal. But this week, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has released new research which reveals that part of the problem could lie with parents. When asked, only seven per cent of parents said that they would encourage their girls to be engineers - despite the fact that girls show an active interest in STEM subjects from an early age. Could it be that parents are limiting their children's future career choices through outdated perceptions of the jobs they think girls and boys are interested in?

The research is part of a new IET campaign, Engineer a Better World, to challenge these ideas and demonstrate to parents the extraordinary variety of interesting and fulfilling jobs that engineering has to offer. The campaign has plenty of starting points for parents to inspire them towards educating and encouraging their children into the field, including a short film showing children's natural fascination with the engineering behind everyday things like a lap top, 3D glasses or an escalator.

The research also explores perceptions of engineering among children. Just over half (54 per cent) said they didn't know anything about careers in the industry.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The key to getting parents on board is education. The more information we can give them about the industry as a whole - debunking those age old myths of the profession as 'dirty' and 'messy' - the more likely they are to consider engineering as a worthy career path for their kids. Nearly half of all parents of girls (44 per cent) that the IET questioned said they didn't know enough about engineering, so awareness and accessibility of knowledge and resources is clearly an issue.

In fact, once they were given some information on engineering, showing just how many different career choices engineering offers, both parents and children were much more interested in what the sector had to offer. More than two thirds (72 per ent) of parents agreed that they would encourage their child to pursue engineering as a career after learning more about it - a notable increase.

Of course, the problem doesn't lie just with parents - this is just one issue, and it's not a 'quick fix' one either. But, if we can get parents thinking about modern engineering as an exciting and creative career path, and using their influence to inform children, we may just see gender roles in the field start to balance out one day.