Apparently, girls as young as seven already believe that engineering is not a career option for them.
And by 14, many have completely switched off from the idea.
This is according to information gathered by a Network Rail (NR) focus group who talked to young girls around the country and found that 11 was a “watershed” age to start trying to attract them to the industry.
So, in response to what they call an “unconscious bias” against the thought of engineering as a career for women, NR is launching a new drive, including a work-experience scheme and open evenings, to attract thousands more young girls to the profession.
For some in the company, such as chief engineer Jane Simpson, it’s personal.
She started her career as an apprentice at 16 years old and now, despite some less-than-encouraging opinions of others, she is NR’s most senior engineer and manages a team of 500 across Britain.
According to her: “If my school careers adviser had her way, I would have become a nursery nurse or teacher but I wasn’t willing to accept being pigeon-holed like that.”
Loraine Martins, director of diversity and inclusion at NR, said: “We have some fantastically smart and creative women working for us, making a big difference to the millions of people who travel by train every single day.
“We know that a more diverse workforce helps increase productivity and creativity and will help us deliver on our multibillion-pound railway upgrade plan over the coming years.”
Transport Minister Claire Perry explained that the proportion of the industry’s workforce made up by women is low and that the solution is to target prospective female engineers while they are still young and thinking about their options for the future.
In her words: “Women currently make up a tiny proportion of our surveyors, engineers and construction professionals.
“We’re doing our part asking Crossrail chief executive Terry Morgan to lead a transport and infrastructure skills strategy aimed at addressing issues like this, but it’s vital that industry leads the way in showing our young people what an exciting career they could have.
“I’m delighted to see Network Rail’s efforts to reach out to girls and young women and I’m sure this campaign will have a real impact in making our workforce even more diverse and successful.”