Open Eye: Is Engineering in Need of a Sex Change?
ONE OF THE first three people to graduate with a Bachelor of Engineering degree from The Open University is a woman. Nothing unusual about that, you may think, but in fact Gaynor Bickley is one of a surprisingly small minority.
Of the 16,995 people accepted onto engineering degree courses nationally in 2003, 2,279 were women - a little over 13 per cent, according to figures released by the Engineering Council. Women make up less than 6 per cent of graduates with an engineering or technical degree who are working as engineers. And at a time when women are increasing their representation in many professions, the proportion of women entering engineering courses has remained virtually unchanged, at between 13 and 14.5 per cent, since 1991.
Despite The Open University's reputation for breaking down barriers and widening access, it can't - yet - claim to be the shining exception in this case. Out of about 1,600 OU students currently following the study route to a BEng path, only some 120 are female.
Yet the OU's flexible part-time study mode ought to be good news for women, who often find it harder than men to squeeze in study time around their family commitments.
So it has proved for Bickley, 36, who already had an HNC in Mechanical Engineering but was finding her promotion prospects hampered by the lack of a degree. "My life changed when I had my first child and needed a more flexible approach to studying," she said.
Her OU study was sponsored by her employer Rolls-Royce, where she works in software implementation, having recently switched from a role as a procurement engineer.
Women may be avoiding engineering, Bickley suggested, because they consider a wider range of career options than men. …