Many teenage girls believe boys are more suited to engineering than they are, according to research by Network Rail.
The organisation found that 40 per cent of the 500 girls aged 12 to 17 taking part in its survey believed the profession was better for boys.
Construction was seen as better suited to boys than girls by 58%.
Currently just 14% of Network Rail’s workforce are women, although the body has pledged to boost recruitment and retention of female staff.
Loraine Martins, director of diversity and inclusion at Network Rail, said: “It’s no secret that the engineering sector in particular is male dominated and has trouble attracting talented women. Organisations like ours are making a concerted effort to change that.
“This research shows that even girls aged 12 are sensitive to stereotypes, and are ruling themselves out of particular jobs. We must put as much energy into tackling bias while girls are still in education as we do into overcoming gender bias issues in the workplace.”
Network Rail has pledged to increase recruitment of female graduates, with the target that 30% of its 2019 intake are women. It also wants one in five of its ‘future leaders’ group to be female by the same date.
Jane Simpson, interim director of safety, technical and engineering at Network Rail, joined the industry as an apprentice aged 16.
“If my school career adviser had her way, I would have become a nursery nurse or teacher,” she said.
“When I became the first female overhead line engineer on the railway in the 1990s, male colleagues were alarmed to say the least, and I experienced some really sexist attitudes.
“However, I’m really glad I went through it as I’m using that experience to help redesign our graduate recruitment strategy and replace unattractive images of men on track with messages and imagery that appeal to both sexes.”
Network Rail chief executive Mark Carnesaid earlier this year that getting more women into the rail infrastructure organisation was critical to instilling the performance and safety culture he wanted.