Non-Destructive Testing is the domain of men. That is the perception.

Published gender or diversity data for the NDT industry is not currently available; however, we have no reason to suppose that it wouldn’t align with General Engineering research data.  This data shows us that only 9% of the UK engineering workforce are female (1) and that the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in the whole of Europe at less than 10%, whilst Latvia and Cyprus have 30% (2).  Engineering type Apprenticeships in England for 2013/14 only attracted 3% of girls (3).  It is therefore not unsurprising that NDT is viewed as gender specific, and the statistics have remained similar since 2005.

It is no secret that Engineering faces skills shortages and an aging workforce, and according to the Engineering UK Report 2016 produced by Engineering UK (4) the UK is going to need many more engineers. The report indicates that 182,000 people with engineering skills will be required each year until 2022, and this will mean recruiting around 56,000 engineering technicians per year, however that currently leaves an annual shortfall of 28,000(4).

Paul Jackson, chief executive of Engineering UK, recently said: “Engineering is a growth industry that has the potential to continue to drive productivity in the UK. This is a great opportunity, tempered only by concern about the need to train many more engineering technicians if we are not to be left behind by countries like South Korea and Germany.”

Given the gender bias and perceptions around Non-Destructive Testing, only 50% of the talent pool would be available to service this shortfall – a shortfall that could see the UK looking overseas to Europe and further afield to fill the gap.

Following the release of the Engineering UK Report in 2016; Nick Boles, former Minister of State for Skills, said: “These shortages are compounded by insufficient numbers of young people, especially girls, choosing a career in engineering. I am convinced we will only overcome these challenges if all those with an interest in UK engineering commit to greater collaboration and partnership.”


Influence of Gender Stereotypes
Recent research, published in Science Magazine, suggests that gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge very young at around 5/6 years of age and this would influence a child’s interest and, ultimately, subject choices at school (6).  They typically would not choose subjects that would lead them into an engineering career.  This can be demonstrated in the following video:

Research also shows us that a quarter of all parents do not know what engineers do and so they would not be the best advocates for promoting this career choice to girls, or boys for that matter, and only 37% of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths), teachers felt confident giving engineering careers advice (3).

Children, and girls in particular, are therefore woefully ill-informed and disadvantaged as to the wealth of career choices that engineering has to offer and their ability to see engineering, and its branches, as the route for their career, many believing it to be ‘garage-ey’, a dirty job, or one that’s for boys!

In 2015, a study released for Engineers Week found a host of organisations, including universities, media outlets and search engines are all guilty of reinforcing engineering stereotypes through their choice of images online (5).

The analysis of engineering-related imagery from across more than 70 popular websites included:

  • One fifth of images feature the stereotypical hard hat – fortifying out-dated opinions that engineering is only about men in hard hats working on building sites as opposed to the full range of careers available to young people today.
  • Stock image sites and search engines are the worst culprits, majorly lagging behind other sites on gender balance. Image searches for the term “engineer’ found just 26% of search engine results featured women and 25% of stock images contained female engineers (compared to 85% and 81% of images featuring men).

Supporting research among 11-16 year olds has also revealed just how influential online imagery can be.  Almost a third (29%) of all those surveyed believe images used to represent engineering are not relevant to them, with 28% of girls saying they are too male orientated.  Almost one in ten (7%) girls went so far as to say that images they’ve seen online have put them off a career in engineering.

A Google search for ‘engineer’ frequently reveals pictures of men in hard hats.

At the time, Chief Executive of Engineering UK, Paul Jackson said: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, it is extremely worrying that cyber sexism is rife when it comes to the depiction of engineers on websites used by young people.”

“Engineers shape the world we live in and are behind many of the amazing everyday things we take for granted. Engineering isn’t just about men in hard hats.”

“In the next decade, employers will need 1.82m people with engineering skills, meaning we need to double the number of apprentices and graduates entering the industry. We cannot afford to lose would-be engineers by carelessly reinforcing stereotypes and not showing the full scope of exciting careers available.”

“We need to inspire, not discourage, young people to consider engineering as their future career.”

The research also demonstrated that engineering companies and industry bodies are better than average at demonstrating a gender mix in the workplace.  At the time, Jane Simpson, chief engineer at Network Rail, commented: “Our engineers wear hard hats and orange hi-vis to be safe when they are on track or on site, but they also wear business dress because they are designers, electronic specialists or project managers where they are office-based. We are working hard on our website and in careers materials to show both sides of the role to reflect this reality and promote the varied role of an engineer.”

“We know role models are crucial to show girls and women what’s possible and so more and more, we’re showcasing the women in our business and the work they do, so others can see people like them are working successfully in engineering. As the most senior engineer at one of Britain’s biggest engineering companies I hope I can also inspire others to see the fantastic opportunities engineering offers.”


What can we do as an industry to change these gender stereotypes?
As an industry, we have to take responsibility for the position we find ourselves in. We must continue to challenge the stereotyping and bias that exists within our industry. Challenging the belief that this is an all-male domain, and a white all-male domain, given that 92% of our engineering workforce are white and male.

There are a number of initiatives and organisations looking at ways of addressing the status quo and the Royal Academy of Engineering has a Diversity Programme; which is into its second phase and having secured funding from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), it will continue to share its vision and strategic aims for the next four years.  Examples of organisations addressing the status quo include:

  • BINDT recently signed up to the Royal Academy of Engineering Concordat and now have a Diversity and Inclusion Working Group. Their aim is to produce a BINDT policy on Diversity and Inclusion which would be meaningful and evidence based and one that would inform BINDT strategy for the future.
  • WISE (the campaign to promote Women in Science, Technology and Engineering) offer support and training to individuals and companies wishing to understand diversity and inclusion, and to change their working practices.
  • STEMNET is an initiative providing outreach to schools to stimulate interest and enthusiasm is STEM by linking employers with educators and students.

Happily, there is a lot of productive work taking place.

Women in NDT

Our female NDT tutors alongside two students.

In the world of NDT, we already have some very talented female NDT operators and at Lavender International we are particularly proud our own female tutors working alongside their male counterparts.

We, as a business are serious about diversity and how we can contribute to changing stereotypical believes. It was disappointing recently to read an external comment on our LinkedIn feed that mentioned something about ‘broken nails’, with regard to a female tutor. This is clichéd, and unhelpful when trying to inject new and diverse talent into our industry. However, it does certainly prove that we still have a way to go!

Written by Jill Thompson, Operations Director at Lavender International

(1) Engineering UK 2015: The State of Engineering,
(2) Quote from Vince Cable says UK economy hampered by lack of female engineers, The Guardian, 4 Nov 2013,, accessed Feb 2013
(4) Engineering UK Report 2016,

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