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Women engineers could boost economy by £2bn

FEW women would relish the prospect of swapping their stilettos for steel toe-cap boots, or a fascinator for a hard-hat.

But leading organisations have claimed the Scottish economy could receive a massive boost if they did.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) claims the country’s finances could see a big increase if more females took up roles in the male-dominated industries of science, technology, engineering, and maths (Stem).

In Scotland, just 20% of workers in Stem jobs are women -- a figure that has not increased since 2008.

Additionally, almost three-quarters of women who study or train for a Stem career end up not working in the field.

Professor John Roulston, chair of IET’s Scotland Policy Panel, claims a dramatic change is needed to help Scotland’s finances.

He said: “A Stem-literate workforce is essential to Scotland’s medium-term and long-term economic strength.

“Change is necessary to ensure Scotland makes full use of its available talent by tackling the under-representation of women.

“Society’s portrayal of engineering as a male career option must be reversed. This is an industry challenge which requires public, private and third-sector solutions.

“Things that could be done include ensuring greater use of flexible working within companies, increased acceptance of career breaks, and more use of part-time career roles.

“This would all help to make Stem roles more attractive to women.”

The Scottish Resource Centre for Women in Engineering, Science and Technology also claims the Scottish economy is being stilted by a lack of females in Stem industries.

Centre director Linda Somerville said: “From a business point of view, if a company wants to succeed, it has to diversify its workforce in terms of gender and other factors so a more diverse range of ideas can be developed.

“In Scotland, 73% of women who study for a career in science, engineering or technology end up not working in those fields and employers need to consider why that is. The industries can be very male dominated and women can often find it quite difficult to adjust, but it means that businesses are then losing out.

“Employers are losing out on skilled and talented workers and therefore the Scottish economy is losing out because we can’t fulfil the potential we have.”

Ms Somerville added that employers needed to do more to encourage the recruitment and retention of female staff members.

She said: “Employers need to revise their recruitment policies. Often people end up in these types of jobs through word of mouth, and while men may hear from friends or people they play football with, for example, women may not hear about it.

“They also need to think about trying to get women who have the skills and experience back into jobs in the field. There’s a huge pool of talent that’s not being tapped.”

It has been estimated that increased participation of women in the UK Stem labour market could be worth around £2 billion.

The Scottish Government has set up a working group to look at possible solutions to the problem.

A Government spokesperson said: “The Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland, Professor Anne Glover, was instrumental in setting up the Royal Society of Edinburgh working group.

“We are looking forward to the publication of the report with the hope it will suggest achievable, practical solutions to increase the proportion of women in the Stem workforce, and support them to reach their full potential.

“We also believe that our new Opportunities for All programme to give a learning or training place to every 16 to 19-year-old not already in employment, education or training will help Scottish women and men develop these skills.”


CASE STUDY: Being the only girl was never a worry

ARLENE McCONNELL is a systems engineer for Edinburgh firm Selex Galileo.

The 30-year-old, who has been named as IET’s Young Woman Engineer of the Year, became interested in engineering when she was called for service with the RAF after a period in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.

It was during her time with the RAF that she developed a passion for engineering and decided to study it.

Miss McConnell, of Glasgow, said: "I arrived at a career in engineering by a slightly unconventional route.

"I was never actively discouraged from going into the engineering industry. However, I didn’t think during school that engineering was within my capabilities. It was never presented to me as a possible career path."

She added: "I was the only girl in the automotive engineering department for the entire two years I spent at college, and one of only a handful of girls who graduated from my degree course and went on to take up a position in industry.

"But to me, being the only girl was never anything to worry about.

"I am aware that this does dramatically affect other young women, but I believe we only learn what we are capable of when we see examples of it.

"Girls may think it’s totally male-dominated, but there are women out there who can act as role models and offer them support."

Miss McConnell has worked with Selex Galileo for three years and is developing a new radar system for a Gripen Fighter Jet.

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