Why are there still so few girls in engineering schools?

Preach the good word everywhere in France. On the occasion of the 11th edition of Industry Week, 4,500 free events are organized these days to promote industrial professions and their diversity. Because the hour is serious. According the latest IES national surveyF (Engineers and Scientists of France) published in September, engineering schools had only 28% of girls. “A figure that has not changed since 2013 while it has been steadily increasing for the previous forty years”, informs Philippe Dépincé, president of the training and society commission at the Conference of Directors of French Engineering Schools (CDEFI) .

These figures are all the more alarming since the shortage of engineers poses an economic problem: according to the IESF report, France graduates 38,000 engineers each year, whereas 60,000 are needed to meet the needs of the work. Examples: the hydrogen sector would lack 5,000, the air and space sector 10,000, nuclear 10,000 too.

A more or less marked situation depending on the schools

However, the lack of diversity is not uniform in all engineering schools. According to the Conférence des grandes écoles, some have only 5.5% girls, while others have 78.8%. “Schools specializing in life sciences, biology, agronomy, chemistry, environment are very feminized, while those dealing with digital, mechanics, automotive, construction are very few”, notes Aline Aubertin, president of Women Engineers.

“There is also a greater proportion of girls in generalist engineering schools,” adds Amel Kefif, CEO of Elles Bougent, an association that aims to encourage young girls to pursue careers in the industrial, technological and scientists via the intervention of 9,000 godmothers in schools.

The lack of female role models

If the feminization of the workforce is still lagging behind in many schools, it is first of all that too few middle and high school girls dream of becoming engineers. “There isn’t just one engineering profession, but a host of different professions. This does not facilitate their representations to young people”, underlines Aline Aubertin.

And it’s clear that prejudices still die hard: “Technical and engineering professions are still stereotyped as masculine. Cartoons and movies never show a female scientist in action. And on the boxes of microscope games, for example, there is always a photo of a boy,” remarks Amel Kefif. Even if career days are organized in certain colleges and high schools, according to Philippe Dépincé, they are insufficient to arouse vocations: “We must break the self-censorship of girls from an early age. Admittedly, there are interventions by women scientists in secondary school, but the game is almost already done. »

The reform of the bac pointed out

Engineering schools conveying an elitist image, many young girls also think that they are only accessible after a preparatory class and self-censor: “The complexity of the school system makes it difficult to find your bearings. So not all high school students know that there are post-baccalaureate engineering schools or that many schools recruit through parallel admissions (on file or on competition) holders of a BTS, BUT, a licence,” notes Aline Aubertin.

The latest reform of the baccalaureate, implemented from 2009, would also have aggravated the phenomenon of girls’ withdrawal from purely scientific courses, according to Aline Aubertin: “High school girls are often eclectic and they have taken advantage of the multiplicity of specialties offered to open up to different fields. Fewer of them chose scientific triplets (for example: mathematics/physics-chemistry/life sciences or mathematics/physics-chemistry/engineering sciences, or even mathematics/numeracy and computer sciences/physics-chemistry ). »

And according to a note from Depp in 2021, 52% of girls who had chosen math in special education chose to stop it in terminale. As a result, they are less likely to then opt for a scientific preparatory class than their elders from the late S sector. Moreover, they only represent 30% of the workforce in these preparatory classes. And without a substantial background in science, it is also difficult to integrate a post-baccalaureate engineering school or parallel admission after a license.

Act in all directions, an emergency

A finding that led the IESF to publish a column in the JDD, in which she asks the government to modify the common core programs of 1re and terminale for maths and scientific subjects. Because if the Minister of Education, Pap Ndiaye, recently announced the reintroduction of compulsory mathematics education at the start of the 2023 school year, the fact that it is an hour and a half of weekly lessons is considered insufficient. According to Amel Kefif, it is also necessary that “orientation prescribers push girls to take the maths specialty in high school, because many are very capable of succeeding, even if they doubt it. »

And even if the destruction of stereotypes is a work whose fallout is long, it must be intensified, according to Philippe Dépincé: “From primary school onwards, it is necessary to multiply the interventions on scientific and technical studies by presenting to the pupils the great scientific discoveries made by women. The very new French astronaut, Sophie Adenot, an engineer by training, had thus read the biography of Marie Curie in her childhood… To go in this direction, the CDEFI launched the competition “Ingénieuses », which rewards the best school initiatives aimed at combating stereotypes in the engineering world. And Elisabeth Borne in person brought her stone to the building: “Never be told that a sector is not made for you. Never let yourself be told that a profession or a dream can only be written in the masculine,” declared the Prime Minister in mid-November while celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening to women of the École polytechnique entrance exam, which she is a graduate.

Open other access routes?

The artistic world must also be involved, according to Aline Aubertin: “Series should show engineers in action. Because we remember, for example, the effect of RIS Forensic science and series The experts : they had aroused many vocations among young people. »

Another suggestion: that engineering schools imagine other access routes or expand their pool of recruits. Example with ISEP (digital engineering school). This school offers an international integrated cycle with a science and society section open to students who have taken the maths specialty in Terminale, but another non-scientific one. The program includes adjustments in physical sciences and reinforcement in economics, in order to bring students up to standard. An example to follow ?

source site