Women in Engineering The Challenges and Opportunities in 2024

Original post date: June 23, 2023
Chloe Scarano

International Women in Engineering Day might have been and gone, but this topic should never fade into the background.  

So, we wanted to continue the conversation. In this blog, we talk about the challenges and opportunities women face and how to get more women into engineering. This year, we’ve also spoken with two engineers, Laura Shrieves and Laura Kershaw, who have been smashing it in the industry. They shared so much insight that we’ve created two reports- the second is all about how we can get more women into engineering!

What is International Women in Engineering Day?  

It’s an annual event (held on June 23rd) created by the Women in Engineering Society that aims to inspire more women and girls to explore professions in engineering. The event acknowledges the achievements of women in engineering and supports the inclusion of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths).  

INWED has been recognised for 11 years now. And whilst we have come a long way since 1876 when the first women achieved a Civil Engineering Degree. We still have a long way to go as, women in tech and engineering make up just 15.7% of the workforce.

Let’s get into it…

What challenges are women in engineering facing? 

One of the key challenges women face is the underrepresentation within the sector. Although, the female workforce has increased almost 5% between 2017-2024. We haven’t seen an increase since 2022, which is worrying. 

A few sectors have even shown a 0% increase in representation between 2010 and 2021. This includes: 

Toolmakers and Associated Professions

Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Engineers

Steel Erectors

This underrepresentation is intimidating for those looking to get into the industry. And is a real hurdle for getting women into engineering.  

The next challenge women in engineering face is the culture. Of course, this isn’t the case everywhere. But most women have spoken about the culture being tough to deal with. Facing preconceptions about their skill set or derogatory comments in the workplace (that go beyond normal banter).  

These are first-hand accounts from the engineers we spoke with: 

I’ve faced lots of preconceptions about my skills and technical abilities earlier in my career, putting my head down and getting on with my job worked then. More recently taking on leadership roles alongside having two children has presented a number of challenges. Including how to balance my work and life and also people’s perceptions of how I should balance this – I have come back full time both times. It works for my family, but I have had a lot of questions around this and feel like I have to justify myself and my family situation (my husband is ‘lead parent’)

– Laura Shrieves 

I’ve encountered numerous comments such as, “Did your brother make that?” (I don’t have any siblings), “You’re really good at that for a girl,” “I’ve never met a girl like you before,” and “Women will only be truly respected in the workplace if they wear makeup.” I overcame these challenges by engaging with the female engineering community. I am now the Chair of the Women’s Engineering Society Apprentice Board and have started a YouTube/TikTok channel called ‘Laura Kershaw Workshop’ to improve representation and exposure of women in this industry and change perceptions.

– Laura Kershaw 

This culture might be contributing to women leaving the industry. Women in technology and engineering positions declined from 16.5% in 2022 to 15.7% in 2023, meaning a decrease of 38,000 women. Adding to the under-representation that’s gripping the sector.  

What are the opportunities for women in engineering? 

Engineering is a vast and ever-evolving industry, with an array of professional and personal development opportunities. We asked the Laura’s what inspired them to join: 

I have always loved knowing how things worked, usually by taking them apart and putting them back together again. I also had some male relatives that were in engineering.

– Laura Shrieves

Growing up, I had no awareness of engineering or the automotive industry. Watching three middle-aged men presenting on Top Gear, it never crossed my mind as a potential career since I saw no female representation in that space. At the age of 22, I discovered my love for motor vehicles on the set of Mission Impossible 8, where I worked in the special effects department. This experience sparked my interest, and I began restoring classic cars and motorbikes in my parents’ garage as a hobby.

– Laura Kershaw 

Many industries have taken huge leaps in representation. Unfortunately, there are no newer statistics for this. But here are the industries that had the greatest progress between 2010 – 2021

  • Rubber process operative (from 12.5% to 32.2%
  • Production managers and directors in mining and energy (from 8.5% to 19.6%
  • Electrical engineers (from 1.1% to 12.7%
  • Production and Process engineers (from 7.7% to 19.6%

The Women’s Engineering Society has several opportunities to support those looking to get into the industry. From Student conferences, Mentor programs, and even support for employers looking to retain their workforces. 

Here at Stirling Warrington, we are eager to represent Women within the Engineering industry. If you are looking for a role and would like support, get in touch. And feel free to check out our current vacancies. 

How can we get more women in engineering? 

In summary, it’s a hard situation and many feel that it’s an uphill battle. A third of STEM employees claim that advancement has not been attained in addressing discrimination based on gender within the workplace. And less than half (48%) agree that gender diversity is attainable in these occupations. 

We think there’s so much we can do to help improve diversity in the sector. From awareness to retention. In fact, we’ve created another blog detailing how we can get more women in engineering- so check that out. 

Laura Shrieves 

Laura was a systems engineer, and has over 18 years of experience in the industry. Currently, Laura is a Member of the Board of Trustees for the Women’s Engineering Society and is the VP of Engineering for Ultra Maritime. She has a passion for the creation and development of strong engineering leadership teams with a focus on diversity. 

Laura Kershaw 

Laura has been an advocate for women in engineering for years, with being a STEM Ambassadors, Co-Chair of Young Members, The Chair of the WES Apprentice Board. She’s currently an apprentice powertrain systems development technician and gained her love of engineering through the films industry.