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The global lessons the UK can learn about the engineering gender divide

Female representation in engineering tends to be higher in countries where, by many other measures, gender equality lags behind. So what can that tell us about levelling up the field here?

Three young smiling women working outdoors on mobile device
About half of engineering students in India are female. Photograph: Shruti Mukherjee/Getty Images

Razan al-Lawati is a piping engineer from Oman, which has one of the highest proportions of female engineers in the world. While the UK and many western nations have struggled to attract women into engineering, female representation is substantially higher in countries in eastern Europe and the global south. Just 12% of UK engineers are female. This compares with more than 50% in Oman and Malaysia and three in 10 in countries such as Costa Rica, Vietnam and Algeria, according to figures from Unesco.

Razan al-Lawati, Petrofac
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Razan al-Lawati: ‘There is no such thing as a man’s job or a woman’s job – we are all equal’

Al-Lawati works on the graduate development programme for oilfield services company Petrofac and is based in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. She says that 40% of the 130 engineers on the graduate programme are women, hailing from countries such as Lebanon, the UAE, India, Oman and Jordan. She is not surprised that more than half of Oman’s engineers are women, as she says the country’s government has made strenuous efforts to promote the subject among women and she was encouraged to follow the profession by careers advisers. She says the eagerness to go into engineering is part of an awakening among Middle Eastern women. “Engineering has always been known as a man’s job and this has created a bit of eagerness and curiosity in females to prove that there is no such thing as a man’s job or a woman’s job and that we are all equal,” she says.

Al-Lawati studied for a BSc in mechanical engineering at the University of Cardiff, where there were only a handful of women on the course compared with 140 men. She thinks British women wrongly believe that engineering means impossible mathematics, tricky physics and physically-demanding work on sites. “I think engineering is totally different to what people believe,” she says.

“You can expand your career in so many ways, you don’t have to be a technical expert, there are so many different sectors you can enter such as contracting, supply chain or working on the business side.” Many of the tasks have been made easier with digital communications. “You can access everything through your laptop so you don’t always have to go to the site for hands-on work. Being online and talking to your supervisor makes it a lot easier,” she says.

Meanwhile, in India, there is a high proportion of women studying Stem subjects at university and one report estimates that about half of engineering students in the country are female.