Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

An expert explains: Why we need more women in engineering

A woman engineer is pictured, as the CEO of the Royal Academy of Engineering calls for more women in engineering.

'Engineering remains one of the least gender diverse professions with an unacceptably slow rate of improvement.' - Hayaatun Sillem Image: Unsplash/ ThisisEngineering RAEng

Hayaatun Sillem
Chief Executive Officer, The Royal Academy of Engineering and also of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Gender Inequality is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Gender Inequality

  • Hayaatun Sillem, CEO of the Royal Academy of Engineering, is advocating positive change and inclusion within engineering.
  • The engineering sector now celebrates 'International Women in Engineering Day', which raises awareness of female engineers' achievements.
  • In the UK, only 14.5% of those in engineering jobs are women and research shows that the number is even lower for women of color.
  • Sillem believes we need more female representation in engineering so that the sector more closely 'reflects the society it serves',

'We must overturn the caricature of a grubby profession for men in hard hats and high-vis jackets.'

I never set out to become a champion for diversity and inclusion. In fact, I spent much of my career trying to hide in plain sight. As a younger woman of colour, from a mixed ethnicity, Muslim background working in engineering, I was painfully conscious of being visibly different from most of the people around me. I wanted to be recognised for my capability, not my gender, skin colour or any other characteristic.

But as I became more senior, I realised that my approach was becoming a barrier to my ability to foster inclusive environments where everyone felt welcome, safe and able to contribute to the full.

I subsequently learned to embrace my differentness – to find strength in it – and today I’m proud to be able to draw on this in advocating for positive change in diversity and inclusion in engineering. It’s a change that is urgently needed.

The engineering community celebrates International Women in Engineering Day. As part of our contribution, the Royal Academy of Engineering together with Amazon and BecomingX, launched a series of new films profiling extraordinary trailblazers in engineering: Ursula Burns, the first African American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company; Professor Sue Black, award-winning professor of computer science and bestselling author of ‘Saving Bletchley Park’, who left school at 16; and Dame Stephanie Shirley, founder of a pioneering software company and first woman president of the British Computer Society, who arrived in Britain as an unaccompanied child refugee.

Behind these inspirational stories, and the achievements of many women in engineering across the world, lies a disturbing truth that explains why International Women in Engineering Day is needed. Engineering remains one of the least gender diverse professions with an unacceptably slow rate of improvement.

Have you read?

In the UK, only 14.5% of those in engineering jobs are women and in 2020 women represented just 18% and 16% of accepted applications to engineering and computer science degrees respectively.

At the current rate of progress, gender parity among entrants to engineering degrees will not be achieved until 2085, and the situation is even worse for further education.

The situation is yet more challenging for women of colour, and the pandemic may be further hampering progress with evidence that women in tech are more likely to have lost their jobs than men.

Gender Parity Education, Gender and Work Inclusive Design Workforce and Employment Future of Work
Women in tech were more likely to have lost their jobs than men during the pandemic. Image: Trust Radius

There is an overwhelming evidence base for the business benefits of diverse teams and inclusive leadership, from creativity and innovation to talent attraction and motivation to health and safety. I struggle to understand why any leader would not want to build diverse teams and inclusive cultures. But there are also specific reasons why this matters for engineering.

Engineers shape our world. They design and build the physical infrastructure that sculpts our cities, homes and transport networks. They create digital products and services that power our lives, including the communication tools that we have relied on so heavily during the pandemic. They mediate the benefits of advances in biomedical science so that new vaccine technology can result in vaccines manufactured at scale and delivered safely to the healthcare workers who administer them.

Engineers will be crucial to tackling every global challenge of our age, from climate change to cybersecurity. Surely it is self-evident that we want – we need - a profession that looks more like the society it serves?

At the Academy we’re working hard with a wide range of partners to overturn the grossly inaccurate caricature of engineering as a grubby profession for men in hard hats and high-vis jackets, including through our open-source This is Engineering campaign which includes social media content aimed at teenagers, an image library featuring real engineers in action, a virtual Museum of Engineering Innovation, and a national awareness day every November.


What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

But we need your help getting the message out there that engineering is a creative, human-centric career with higher than average earnings and job satisfaction – engineering is for everyone. And it’s in all our interests to make sure that’s the reality in the engineering profession.

(Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.)

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Equity, Diversity and InclusionJobs and the Future of Work
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

More women are stepping into high-productivity service jobs, says the World Bank

David Elliott

July 18, 2024


About Us



Partners & Members

  • Sign in
  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum