Naomi Climer, the first female president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), has called on colleges to help change the way engineering is perceived to make it more attractive to girls.
Colleges should also ensure girls have access to youthful role models, Ms Climer told TES.
Having taken over last week as the institution's first female president in its 144-year history, she said: “As much as I would like to think I am a good role model, they need 21- and 23 year-olds to help them think ‘this is what I would like to be’. They need role models that are closer to them in age, and colleges could help here.”
The further education sector should also do its bit to change the way the field of engineering was perceived, she said. “We should look at some of the subtleties, like the language we are using, as well as marketing materials and so on.”
Surveys had also shown that girls were more interested than boys in careers that centred around people, Ms Climer added. “I accept that men and women are different, but increasingly, engineering needs people that are interested in people. I do feel that with the kind of engineering we see now we require people who understand human emotions and who are good at building relationships.”
IET research had found that it was “about aged 9 that the perception really started to turn girls away” from engineering and technology-related subjects, she said.
In the almost three decades Ms Climer has worked as an engineer, the proportion of female engineers in the UK has remained at less than 10 per cent. Her comments to TES came as she made a number of recommendations on how the gender gap in the engineering industry could be tackled – including the introduction of a quota system.
Gill Clipson, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said FE colleges had an essential role in training men and women for jobs in sectors such as engineering, “but there's only so much they can do”.
“Work needs to start with careers education and guidance, which needs long-term attention to ensure that children learn about a wide range of sectors and what job roles might be available to them," she said. "This requires deep-rooted work across the system.”