Is engineering masculine?

There is a massive stigma out there that certain careers are for boys and others are for girls. But why?

While attending the EIT INNOVEIT summit awards in Budapest, I spoke to innovator Dora Palfi, co-founder and CEO of imagiLabs, who was showcasing imagiCase which aims to attract more girls into technology and engineering from a young age.

Palfi described her goal as: "Lowering the barrier to entry to programming, in particular for girls, with the first product, imagiCase, being a phone case with an embedded LED matrix that can be programmed to display any text, design or colour through coding with the imagiCase app."

Females that have worked in the STEM fields have experienced first-hand the lack of women amongst them in the sector. One major factor for this is being deterred at such a young age. If you look at the toys and products aimed at young girls, they are all based around Barbie's, beauty and animals, compared to young boy's toys which are more computer and interactively focused. Palfi added: "I believe that girls are not encouraged at a young age to be creators of technology."

Engineering and technology in the UK is a predominately male profession, with men comprising over 89% of the workforce. However, many diversity efforts focus on getting more women into engineering. It is not beneficial for any industry to have such a bias or be so stereotyped. EqualEngineers launched a survey to investigate masculinity in engineering to coincide with World Mental Health day. EqualEngineers was set up by Dr Mark McBride-Wright, after years of working in the sector and seeing not only the challenges that the lack of diversity can bring, but also the risks posed to health, safety and wellbeing.

It is important to break down these stereotypes, not only to encourage women into STEM, but also men. But is introducing quotas the right way to go? At Startups Magazine's recent event, 'Celebrating Women in Tech', this question was offered to the panel talk. There was a mixed reaction. Karen Winton from Capital Pilot, said quotas are the way forward to ensure progress is not an option. However, contrastingly some people said that introducing a recruitment parameter to reach a pre-determined number is not the way to go, and job candidates should be chosen on talent, ability and required skills – just in a less masculine tainted way.

Men have led and dominated for many years, therefore currently the ‘ideal leader' is seen to have masculine traits, and consequently women sometimes feel they are expected to adapt these traits or miss the chance to be at the top. Is the solution to rethink our definition of an ideal leader as something less 'masculine'?

Some engineering fields are considered to be ‘masculine' according to a number of surveys and with this the number of females in the workforce is considerably lower. This stereotype is one that is ingrained from an early age, and it is arguably responsible for the lack of women in STEM.