Women still massively under represented in law and engineering careers

Labour Party

Last week I wrote about the disproportionately low numbers of women working in academia in the field of mathematics. Despite making up almost half of graduates just 6% follow this into a mathematics career in the academic field. Institutions and committees are making real efforts to redress this and it will be interesting to see how it develops.

Yesterday I learnt some figures relating to an altogether different area- the judiciary. Just 15% of high court judges are women and for ethnic minorities the figure is just 4%. In the Court of Appeal there is not a single black judge. It’s a familiar pattern, I feel as if I am writing exactly what I wrote last week, for women make up almost half of all law graduates.

Ken Macdonald QC, a Liberal Democrat Peer and Warden of Wadham College, Oxford and Director of Public Prosecutions, 2003-2008, wrote in the Times yesterday that nothing is changing. Indeed he says it’s unlikely that it has been a magical meritocratic process that has seen white males rise so disproportionately quickly than others. He suggests something else must be ‘afoot’. And he makes the crucial point that so much talent and ambition is being overlooked as a result. “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that this is a continuing failure to grip the terrible waste that blinkered recruitment represents: all that talent and ambition overlooked,” he writes.

And further research yesterday found that just 6% of British engineers are women, this is an increase of just one per cent age point since 2008. The report, published by EEF manufacturers’ organisation found that this compares to 26% in Sweden, 20% in Italy and 18% in Spain.

The EEF suggested factors behind the disparity included a “failure to encourage enough young women to study science-related topics, which has left half of UK state schools having no women studying A-level physics.”

Its report called for a “national campaign to increase the number of women studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics to professional level, as well as to promote apprenticeships and other vocational routes into work.”

It’s only with positive and proactive steps like this that we can actually make a difference. Doing nothing simply isn’t an option, otherwise in five years’ time we may find that the percentage of female engineers has increased by another per cent age point- and that’s not good enough.