New research commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering has revealed disadvantages for female engineers in academia, with women underrepresented in senior posts and less likely to be invited to apply for promotion.

The research, published today by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) and jointly commissioned by the Academy, the Royal Society, the Royal Society of Biology and the Academy of Medical Sciences, draws on a survey of academics working in biosciences and medicine, engineering, and physical sciences.

It finds that in all three disciplines, women experience consistent disadvantages across multiple aspects of their working lives, while black and minority ethnic (BME) men in physical sciences had less leadership and management training. Key findings include:

  • Across all three disciplines women were underrepresented in senior positions and overrepresented in early-career posts.
  • Men were more likely to have gained their current position via formal promotion across all three disciplines. The largest gender gap reported was in engineering, where 7.5% of women compared with 15.6% of men had gained their current position via formal promotion.
  • Men were also more likely to say that they had been invited or encouraged to apply for promotion:~
    - Engineering: 55.1% of women compared with 60.0% of men
    - Biosciences and medicine: 47.1% of women compared with 58.9% of men
    - Physical sciences: 48.3% of women compared with 60.2% of men

These disadvantages are compounded when gender intersects with other protected characteristics:

  • BME women in biosciences and medicine experienced a similar degree of compounded disadvantage as reported in the full ASSET 2016 report published by ECU in April 2017.
  • Across all three disciplines, female academics who disclosed as disabled were particularly negative in their ratings of how having a disability had impacted their career progression. They were similarly negative about their intentions for their future careers: for example, 7.4% of female engineers reported that they did not want to continue their career in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) compared with 1.4% of female engineers who had not disclosed as disabled.

The experiences of BME men in the physical sciences contrasted with findings from engineering and, biosciences and medicine. In the physical sciences:

  • Proportionally fewer BME men had training experience in administrative tasks related to management, postgraduate supervision, leadership, grant application skills, project planning and financial management compared with white men.
  • 12.8% of BME men said that they would like to continue working in STEMM but outside of higher education, compared with only 4.0% of white men.

Responding to the findings of the report, Sarah Dickinson Hyams, ECU’s Head of Equality Charters, said:

"These findings reinforce the importance of ECU’s Athena SWAN Charter and Race Equality Charter as mechanisms for positive gradual change towards greater gender and racial equality in UK higher education."

Professor Nilay Shah FREng, Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Director of the Centre for Process Systems Engineering, Imperial College London, and member of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, said:

"Results from the Athena Survey of Science Engineering and Technology tell us that there is still some way to go to establish equality for women across engineering academia. While women are overrepresented in early-career posts, they continue to be underrepresented in senior positions. We have a situation where both women and men perceive it is easier for a man than for a woman to gain a senior position, and where men are almost twice as likely to have achieved their current position through a formal promotion. For the first time, this report considers not only gender as a single point of identity but also looks at the way in which experiences of gender equality differ by ethnicity and disability."

"The report includes a number of recommendations targeted at engineering departments which I urge each and every one to consider. Increasing gender equality among academic staff is extremely important because it could help stimulate an increase in the representation of female engineers across universities from the current 15%, and have a positive impact on UK innovation and creativity."

Read the report - ASSET 2016: experiences surrounding gender equality in engineering, and their intersections with ethnicity and disability

For more information please contact

Lauren Sandhu, ECU Communications Officer
T: 020 7438 1010

Dr Amanda Aldercotte, ECU Quantitative Researcher
T: 020 7438 1010

Notes to editors

  1. The Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Society of Biology and The Academy of Medical Sciences commissioned Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) to design and implement the 2016 version of the ASSET survey, and to then publish the results:
  2. ECU (2017) ASSET 2016: experiences surrounding gender equality in biosciences and medicine, and the intersections with ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and age.
  3. ECU (2017) ASSET 2016: experiences surrounding gender equality in engineering, and the intersections with ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and age.
  4. ECU (2017) ASSET 2016: experiences surrounding gender equality in physical sciences, and the intersections with ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and age.
  5. New ECU research on experiences surrounding gender equality and the intersections with ethnicity and disability in biosciences and medicine, physical sciences, and engineering.
  6. ECU (2017) ASSET 2016: experiences surrounding gender equality in STEMM academia and the intersections with ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and age.
  7. ECU supports higher education institutions across the UK and in colleges in Scotland to advance equality and diversity for staff and students. For more information about ECU’s work visit our website or follow us on Twitter @EqualityinHE.
  8. ECU provides research information and guidance, training, events and equality charters that drive forward change and transform organisational culture in teaching, learning, research, and knowledge exchange. We have over ten years’ experience of supporting institutions to remove barriers to progression and success for all staff and students.
  9. We are registered charity funded by the Scottish Funding Council, and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and through direct subscription from higher education institutions in England and Northern Ireland.
  10. Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook.

    We have four strategic challenges:
    - Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation
    - Address the engineering skills crisis
    - Position engineering at the heart of society
    - Lead the profession