Influencing how engineers are perceived

A sketch of the perceived image of an engineer following the results of a survey of children aged 9-16 years.

To celebrate the annual Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards, the IET has reviewed the perceptions of a typical engineer. According to a representative sample of children aged 9-16, a typical engineer is described as white (51 per cent), middle aged (31 per cent) male (67 per cent), with glasses (40 per cent), a beard (27 per cent), brown hair (44 per cent), brown eyes (21 per cent), of tall stature (44 per cent) and slim build (42 per cent).

From this study, it appears that school children aged 9-16 can’t visualise an opportunity for future female engineers, with less than one in ten (9 per cent) children describing a typical engineer as a woman. It also seems stereotyping such as this could be being passed down by parents. When asked to describe a typical engineer, parents returned almost identical answers.

To dispel ideas of what a typical engineer looks like, the IET is celebrating the 40th Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards with a campaign to showcase engineering in a completely different light, highlighting the diverse career opportunities available in the industry.

Engineering contributed £486 billion to the UK GDP in 2015 and engineering jobs account for 19 per cent of the total UK employment. Despite this, Engineering UK predicts 186,000 people with engineering skills will be needed annually through to 2024 in order to meet demand.

The IET has commissioned Rankin Studios — renowned for photographing everyone from Kate Moss to The Queen — to style and shoot this year’s award finalists as well as previous affiliates in a series of thought provoking images. The series is called ‘Portrait of an Engineer’ and was shot by award-winning photographer and Rankin protégé Vicky Lawton.

Jo Foster, IET diversity and inclusion manager, said: “These outdated and fixed ideas of what a typical engineer looks like are damaging to the industry, especially when the significant shortage of engineers in the UK is posing a serious threat to the economy. Currently only 9 per cent of engineers are female, the lowest in Europe. Wide ranging reasons have been cited for this lack of women, from gender stereotyping and limited female role models to misconceptions about the job itself and parental attitudes.”

Vicky Lawton, photographer and Rankin protégé, said: “It was important to me to capture each of the women’s individual personalities in the portraits and show that their work is as varied as their characters. I played on the stereotypes of engineering by using a classic backdrop whilst juxtaposing with chic, modern styling choices. I loved meeting this cool, eclectic group of seriously powerful individuals and translating that determination and inner confidence into the imagery.”

The winner of the IET Young Women Engineer (YWE) of the Year Awards will be announced on 7th December at Savoy Place in London.

The research was undertaken by Censuswide between June 16 and June 20, 2017 amongst a sample of 1,015 children aged 9-16 and 1,015 parents of children aged 9-16 and 1,096 parents with children of any age.