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Target girls younger in order to gain a gender balance in engineering

Network Rail has pledged to change its approach as it seeks to increase the number of women in rail role after new research reveals that by 14 many have fully switched off from engineering as a career option.

The ‘Switch On, Switch Off’ research, undertaken by Innovation Bubble for Network Rail, showed a key window of opportunity to interest girls with pre-secondary school girls most open to becoming an engineer, responding strongly to female role models and a career with a social value such as rail.

The research found that girls aged seven to nine were switched off by thinking engineering was too dirty and messy but switched on by understanding the social purpose of engineering. Between the ages of 10 to 12, girls were worried that engineering is dangerous and that they weren’t strong enough but responded positively to role models in engineering. Girls aged 13 to 15 thought engineering was unglamorous and unsocial but liked the opportunity to stand out with a different career choice.

Network Rail has said that it will roll-out a work experience scheme, supported by Barclays, in the new school year. The company will also run a series of open evenings at training centres targeted at women, showcasing roles, introducing applicants to staff and building confidence to apply for engineering roles. In a further bid to shift the gender balance, Network Rail will work with the campaign group Women in Science, Technology and Engineering (WISE) to increase understanding of why girls often reject careers in these fields.

The research identifies five opportunities to attract girls to engineering:

  • Communicate the social value of engineering – help girls understand that becoming an engineer can help improve and even save lives
  • Female role models working in engineering were identified as the critical influence in changing attitudes
  • Identifying what engineering is from an early stage – at school and at home – talking about how things are designed and built and who does that job to build understanding and interest
  • Gaming, Minecraft in particular, was identified as a way of taking a school subject and putting it into the girls’ social lives
  • Don’t bemoan a lack of female engineers, celebrate those that have chosen it as a profession. Teachers and parents were unsurprisingly identified as key influences in girls’ career choices.

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