There is a ‘key window of opportunity’ to interest girls in engineering careers, according to research by Innovationbubble for Network Rail.
The Switch On, Switch Off report detailed the way girls could be inspired by engineering at various ages, and the different reservations they typically hold according to their age.
It found that 11-year-old girls were the most open to becoming an engineer, but could lose interest by 14 if nothing was done to capitalise on this.
The research revealed that girls aged 11 respond strongly to female role models and a career with social value such as rail, and that girls aged 13 to 15 appreciate the opportunity to stand out with a different career choice. However, girls aged 10 to 12 were worried that engineering is dangerous and that they aren’t physically strong enough.
Simon Moore, a chartered psychologist working with Innovationbubble, said that the research pinpoints a critical time period for girls’ receptiveness to engineering as a career. “At 11 the girls’ interests seemed to shift from being purely interested in jobs in food, art, or the media to those that were more technical such as law, medicine, or science,” he said. “The worrying result was that if the girls had not been informed by the age of 14 of the potential of a career in engineering they were completely switched off to the idea.”
The research identifies five opportunities to attract girls to engineering:
- Communicating the social value of engineering, to help girls understand that becoming an engineer can improve and even save lives
- Female role models working in the industry were identified as a critical influence for changing attitudes
- Explaining what engineering is from an early age, both at school and at home. This involves talking about how things are designed and built and who does that job, in order to bolster understanding and interest
- Gaming – Minecraft in particular – was identified as a way of taking a school subject and bringing it into the girls’ social lives
- Celebrating women that have chosen it as a profession rather than bemoaning a lack of female engineers.
Chief engineer for Network Rail, Jane Simpson said that role models are crucial to show girls and women what is possible. “I was lucky to have a female role model who saw my potential and helped me realise it,” she said. “Some quite senior men were astonished that I could talk confidently about complex engineering problems, but they soon came to see me for what I could do, not my gender. As the most senior engineer in one of Britain’s biggest engineering companies I know I can help girls along a similar path and be part of something special.
“If my school careers adviser had her way I would have become a nursery nurse or teacher but I wasn’t willing to accept being pigeon-holed like that.”