Women in the UK are less interested in engineering than those in India, China, the US and Germany, according to research.
The Create the Future report, published by the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, ranked the UK ninth out of 10 for female interest in the industry.
India led the way with 79% of women expressing an interest. China was next with 62%, followed by Brazil with 55%.
Just 28% of British women said they were drawn to the topic, leaving the UK also below Turkey, South Africa and South Korea. Japan came bottom of the table with 27%. More than 10,000 people were polled.
The UK did not fare much better when it came to male interest in engineering, a mark of 58% leaving it eighth.
Meanwhile just 20% of 16 to 17 year olds in the UK reported an interest in engineering, compared with 80% of Indians of that age.
BAE Systems managing director Nigel Whitehead said: “Our sector needs to work together to overcome some of the outdated stereotypes and old fashioned notions that engineering isn’t a career suitable for women.
“We must do more to show all young people and their parents that engineering is a great career choice and be bolder about the importance of science, technology, engineering and maths subjects.”
Just one in 10 UK engineers is female. President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology Naomi Climer recently said “the time is right” for setting quotas of women to be employed by engineering firms.
Viola Vogel, head of the Laboratory of Applied Mechanobiology in Zurich, said the apparent wider gender gap in interest in engineering in developed economies was “astounding”.
“Women have a far more equal access to education in the US, Germany, Japan and South Korea than in [India, Turkey, China and Brazil], yet their aptitude to pursue engineering careers is less,” she said.
Vogel added that societal perception of the career may be the main barrier to female participation.
Dr Robert Langer, an institute professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was awarded the 2015 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.
Langer received the prize from the Queen at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace this week.
He was recognised for “revolutionary advances and leadership in engineering at the interface with chemistry and medicine”.
Langer was the first person to engineer polymers to control the delivery of large molecular weight drugs for the treatment of diseases such as cancer and mental illness.
Meanwhile, the report showed that people in eight of the 10 countries polled thought engineering should focus on solving problems.
This was the highest ranked option in all nations except Japan, where inspiring innovations came top, and Turkey, where the population chose improving quality of life.
Looking at the next 20 years, all countries bar China thought engineering should focus first on renewable energy. In China, healthcare was a marginally bigger priority for people.
Three in four people across the world believe engineers will improve renewable energy by 2035, with the same proportion backing the sector to advance computer technology. Addressing infrastructure challenges was chosen by 72% as an achievable target.
Jointly with leading a business, engineering is seen as the most important profession for the economy by people around the world. This put the career above science, teaching, medicine and accounting.
Engineering is also seen as a prestigious and accessible career, ranking fourth on both traits. Eight in 10 people polled in the UK said engineering’s contribution to society was undervalued, as did an average of seven in 10 people worldwide.
Narayana Murthy – founder of technology consulting firm Infosys – said: “Since its birth 30,000 years ago with the invention of the bow and arrow, engineering has been successfully driving progress in all aspects of our lives.
“Yet while 84% of people agree the sector is vital to enhancing innovation, improving lives and stimulating economic growth, just 55% express an interest in actually doing it as a job.”
Lord Browne, chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation, said the report showed the perception problems for the sector.
“Without combatting the lack of understanding surrounding our profession and changing persistent stereotypes we will not attract the next generation of engineers to meet the challenges of the future,” he said.