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One major issue facing the engineering world is the gender imbalance in engineering where women only represent a small fraction of the workforce and the academic world. And this imbalance is not confined to engineering but is also observed in other STEM fields. Data released by UCAS show that women are 36% more likely to go to university than men but men still dominate the engineering sector where a report produced by The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) showed that women only account to 9% of the engineering and technology workforce in the UK in 2016 1,2.

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Driving factors behind the gender imbalance
Gender stereotypes and stereotype threat are major factors that affect the under-representation of women, and the culture of gender stereotypes has given rise to negative attitudes and prejudice towards women’s engineering and mathematical abilities. Furthermore this culture discourages potential women to enter the engineering world and affects the performance for those who do, both academically and professionally 3.

The engineering culture is also a reason and a driving factor for the low female participation rate. One explanation is that marginalisation during work opportunities deter women from staying in the field, and negative group dynamics which favour men more than women to receive more challenging opportunities also inhibits women’s potential since there is an inherent  bias towards women. Another factor regarding the engineering culture which disproportionally affects women is the difficulty of entering the engineering sector after a period of absence, which from a long-term perspective affects the professional participation rate 4.

Another theory that could explain a part of the gender imbalance is the Queen Bee syndrome. A study published in the British Journal of Social Psychology found that there were no differences in work commitment and satisfaction between genders, but further investigation showed that females were perceived to be less committed to their work, and that this bias was most evident among females. A possible explanation for this finding is that high-achieving women who do hold this bias separate themselves from the group, and therefore correlate their success with being different from other women, instead of making the conclusion that the prejudice is wrong. This means that even some high-achieving and successful women play an active roll in sustaining the gender imbalance 6.

Increasing female representation and participation rate
One important factor in working against gender imbalance is educating the public about its existence and consequences. Research has found that reminding women of gender differences in implicit ways, reminding them of a stigmatised identity could affect their performance in tasks related to stereotypes, such as that women perform worse in math compared to males. A study has also shown that women performed worse on a test described as a maths test, however, when the test was described as a problem solving or when women were told about the effects of stereotype threat no differences could be found between the genders. This shows that educating women and the public of how prejudice could affect performance and culture, and minimising reminders of a difference between genders could serve as an effective tool in increasing the female participation rate in engineering or STEM. In addition the study also found that even when inducing stereotype threat, educating women about it would make them perform as well as males. Helping females in this way to increase their performance would therefore automatically increase the probability for them to begin och stay in an engineering career 7. 

Another possible solution is giving females more opportunities to teach and be active in the educational sphere, acting as role models for younger female students. Multiple studies has found that simply having a female administer a maths test would make women perform as men, and this is because the students learn about the administer’s ability in the subject, and not because the administer is female. Furthermore this effect can also be seen in other situations, where textbooks who would display female scientists would help women in their performance. Moreover, women of high status in the field are not required to observe this effect. Letting groups only consist of women in projects would make those women perform better in math than women in mixed groups. This overall points to an effect where women perform better in math the more women are seen in the environment, decreasing or eliminating stereotype threat. And helping women in math would ultimately make it easier to decrease the gender imbalance in maths-related fields such as engineering 8, 9.

To summarise, it can be seen that gender discrimination is common in the engineering and STEM world, and this leads to fewer females entering och remaining in engineering, and impacts the performance for those who do stay. However, educating female students about gender discrimination or combatting stereotypes by showing that women perform just as good as men without the presence of stereotype threat.


2 Fine, N et al. (2016) “Skills & Demand in Industry 2016 Survey”, The Institution of Engineering and Technology, Vol. 11, pp. 32.

3 Brett, J et al. (2013) “The impact of engineering identification and stereotypes on undergraduate women’s achievement and persistence in engineering”, Social Psychology of Education An International Journal, section 1-2, 5-6.

4 Seron, C et al. (2015) “Professional Socialization and the Reproduction of Sex Segregation”, SAGE Journals, section 1.

6 Ellemers, N et al (2004) “The underrepresentation of women in science: Differential commitment or the queen bee syndrome?” British Journal of Social Psychology Vol. 43 No. 3, pp. 300-340.

7 Michael, J et al. (2005) “Knowing Is Half the Battle: Teaching Stereotype Threat as a Means of Improving Women’s Math Performance”. Psychological Science Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 170-180.

8 Marx, D et al. (2002) “Female role models: Protecting women’s math performance”. Personality and Social bulletin, Vol. 28 No. 3, pp. 1180-1200

9 Huguet, P; Regner, I (2007) “Stereotype threat among schoolgirls in quasi-ordinary classroom circumstances”, Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 99 No. 3, pp. 545-550.