The UK's advertising watchdog, The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), brought a ban into force last Friday on adverts featuring "harmful gender stereotypes" or those which are likely to cause "serious or widespread offence". The move will not only make advertising more responsible, it’s also good for the engineering skills shortage, as Zafar Jamati, head of content at Stone Junction, explains.

The new rules come following the ASA’s review on gender stereotyping back in 2017. In it, the ASA highlighted how gender stereotypes can limit people’s potential, especially for young people, particularly girls:

“Gender roles and characteristics portrayed in advertising were generally perceived to be dated and not reflective of modern society. Portrayals did not always reflect real-life experiences, or they lacked diversity, and because of this were perceived potentially to limit future aspirations. Women and teen girls in particular expressed concern at the potential future impact of advertising in terms of perpetuating stereotypical messages over time.”

One advert that caused controversy was a 2017 TV ad for baby formula Aptamil, which showed a baby boy becoming an engineer and a baby girl becoming a ballerina. The advert received complaints, but a formal investigation found that it didn’t break any rules at the time; the same advert would now fall foul of these new rules.

While this news is great for breaking gender stereotypes and will undoubtedly make advertising more responsible, forcing advertising agencies to find ever-more creative ways of influencing buying behaviour, it also signifies a positive move for tackling the engineering skills shortage.

Stats from Engineering UK’s Engineering Brand Monitor Survey (EBM) 2018, show that, while half of all GCSE physics entrants are female, this number shrinks to just 22 per cent at A-Level. By the time young people get to university, only 16 per cent of engineering and technology first-degree entrants are female. For those starting an engineering apprenticeship, only eight per cent are female.

“Evidence also suggests that there is more work to be done in informing young people, especially girls, about what a career in engineering can entail,” explains Engineering UK. “Our EBM results indicate that at every age, boys are far more likely to consider a career in engineering than girls. The findings further suggest that pupils across all ages are less likely to understand engineering careers than science or technology careers. Evidence from the ASPIRES project supports this, indicating that young people often have poorly formulated views of what engineering jobs actually entail.”

This isn’t really news to most of us in the engineering and technology sector. We’ve known for years that tackling the problem requires a joined-up approach between parents, teachers, employers and government. The Engineering UK report’s recommendations sum up what industry can do going forward.

I’ll leave you with the list of recommendations and urge you to make positive changes in your businesses that will continue to bring about a paradigm shift in the engineering sector. If an ad for baby formula can bring about a fundamental change in advertising rules, imagine what we in the engineering industry can do.

Recommendations by Engineering UK (read the full report here):

  1. Streamline the STEM outreach landscape
  2. Understand what works in engineering-focused career interventions
  3. Address the STEM teacher shortage
  4. Safeguard against the potential negative implications of Brexit
  5. Ensure apprenticeships are of high quality
  6. Raise understanding and awareness of engineering
  7. Improve diversity and inclusion

For more information about how you can develop thought-leading engineering PR content, contact Stone Junction on sayhello@stonejunction.co.uk or call us on +44 (0) 1785 225416.

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