Steps to achieving Gender Balance.


COATED M2A are committed to achieving parity of gender in our cohort across the lifetime of the project. Set against the accepted understanding of under-representation of women in postgraduate study of STEM subjects, the gender balance target presents a significant challenge.

To provide context, I am able to quote figures provided by Engineering UK in their recent report on the Gender disparity in Engineering link to report  gender-disparity-in-engineering.pdf (

Engineering UK estimate just 12% of those working in Engineering are female, compared with 47% female participation of the overall UK workforce. This disparity is largely a consequence of the rates of female participation in the engineering educational pipeline. Although girls outperform boys in most STEM subjects at GCSE and A’ Level, and are more likely to progress into higher education, relatively few decide to progress onto engineering degrees. Engineering UK suggest 16% to be the proportion of female first degree entrants to Engineering and Technology degrees.

So, what steps have we taken to move towards our gender balance target? Initially we have focussed on our recruitment processes, marketing tools and visibility. Summarised below are the factors we’ve considered

Language.  We all use language that is subtly ’gender coded’ and research has shown, job adverts with masculine coded language are off putting to women. We’ve therefore used a gender decoder tool, to ensure all our scholarship adverts are feminine coded. This is not always an easy position to achieve as a lot of the language used when describing engineering research has masculine coding, challeng-, intellect-, logic-, objective-, independent- for example are all masculine coded words.

Marketing. Adverts of course are not the only thing to consider. Many of us will have attended University Open Day’s but have we paused to consider what messages we receive outside of the headline information? Our Open Day speaker / panellists are chosen to represent the gender balance we seek to achieve. Consideration is also given to use of images, student profiles etc in our marketing materials and social media content. Where our sponsors permit, we use real examples of our female researchers to illustrate our culture and commitment to equality.

Pre-Application Surgeries. We offer pre-application surgeries to all applicants with the aim, of helping each to find the right ‘fit’ in terms of the research projects on offer and, to support applicants to present themselves and their skill set to the best possible advantage.

Visibility. Gender parity is impossible to achieve if we look to recruit only through our own Institution, as under representation is present through the pipeline. Hence, our marketing plan considers students graduating from other Universities. HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) data allows determination of degrees and Institutions, where female participation in undergraduate Engineering is highest. By targeting our marketing, we aim for our opportunities to be seen by a wider pool of potential female applicants.

Unconscious bias. To minimise bias in our recruitment round, all applications are anonymised prior to shortlisting for interview. All staff at our institution are required to undertake mandatory Unconscious Bias training and our interview panels are chaired by COATED M2A staff.

The big question being, did these measures work for us? The answer is yes, these changes have positively impacted our gender balance. For the academic year 2021/2022 COATED M2A has recruited 24 Research students; our Engineering Doctorate Cohort is 57% Female and the cohort overall 46% female.

What else could we do to improve on changes already made? We are now starting to consider the role of the interview in recruitment, and how we may apply what we’ve learned so far, to provide an improved interview experience. With our 2022 recruitment round now in progress, we continue our contribution to establishing gender parity in our discipline and look forward to welcoming our next COATED M2A cohort.

Gender Balance in STEM

Find out about our current MSc and EngD projects here

Materials and Manufacturing Academy (M2A) provides industry led postgraduate research training based at Swansea University's new Bay Campus. M2A is part funded by the European Social Fund through the Welsh Government.