Two years ago today - to mark International Women's Day - Auckland University set a tough goal.

The challenge was to increase the number of females enrolled in engineering to 33 percent by 2020.

New figures, released to NZ Herald Job Market, show the faculty has fallen short - reaching 28.6 percent this year.

The figure was down from 29.15% in 2018 and up from 27.41% in 2017.

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Despite the shortfall, the University of Auckland is still determined to make 33 percent a reality.

Head of Engineering Science Rosalind Archer said the university had a long-standing commitment to recruiting and retaining female students.

"Boosting enrolment is a long term game," Archer said.

Head of Engineering Science at Auckland University Rosalind Archer wants 33 percent of her faculty to be women. Photo / Supplied
Head of Engineering Science at Auckland University Rosalind Archer wants 33 percent of her faculty to be women. Photo / Supplied

"To make more significant change efforts will have to reach further into the school system."

Research shows young women lose their confidence in, and appetite for, STEM while in primary school, so Archer wants to see more importance put there.

Engineering NZ is playing an important part with its "Wonder Project" which will have 800 STEM professionals in NZ schools this year.

The program works with children to design and build rockets from plastic bottles.

The university also changed it's approach to attracting females to enrol.

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"In 2017 we started a new project to refresh our approach which included students speaking and running workshops in schools, new women in engineering residential camp, a tutoring hub for NCEA Maths and Physics and campus-based outreach events," Archer said.

She said there was no single factor to explain the low number of females compared to males in the industry.

"We find that many students will only choose engineering as a study/career path if they have been exposed to it through family, friends, teachers, or our programs," she said.

"So to create the change we need to also influence those influencers."

Women working, and succeeding in engineering, are also passionate about getting more women in the industry.

Engineers Holly Wright and Sulo Shanmuganathan want to see more women join their industry. Photo / James Blakeley
Engineers Holly Wright and Sulo Shanmuganathan want to see more women join their industry. Photo / James Blakeley

Civil Engineer Sulo Shanmuganathan said the engineering industry in New Zealand had changed dramatically - especially in the past five years.

She was introduced to the industry by her father, a civil engineer who would take her onto building sites in Sri Lanka when she was a child.

"To me, it was something I was always comfortable with and I never doubted my ability," she said.

Shanmuganathan had studied and worked internationally and had experienced unconscious bias everywhere - including New Zealand.

Just after the Christchurch earthquakes, Shanmuganathan was sent to assess a damaged school.

Hours later someone from the school called her office to ask "why did you send a woman?"

Backed by years of experience and the highest qualifications Shanmuganathan said she "wasn't bothered at all" by the question.

"My employer was the same and just said 'why wouldn't we send a woman'. I think they thought because I was a woman I didn't know what I was doing."

The fact it was a principal of a school questioning her abilities was not lost on Shanmuganathan.

She was very aware of the importance of inspiring girls into STEM at primary school.

Shanmuganathan said despite some of her earlier experiences the workplace had improved remarkably for women in engineering.

At Holmes Consulting there were women in leadership, like Shanmuganathan, now a technical director, and more coming through as graduates.

Recent graduate Holly Wright joined the same company three years ago and now works as a design engineer.

She said the company she worked for was forward-thinking with flexible work hours and an inclusive environment.

"I think the message I want young girls to hear is it is not always about being on-site with a hammer," she said.

"Engineering is more than that and my job is in the office, on the computer, but also drawing with pen and paper and doing some pretty amazing designs.

Wright said flexible work hours had attracted more women to engineering and was helping keep them there.

"I am in a band and I have been able to start work early so I can go and perform or practice," Wright said.

"But there are also men, and women, in the office who work flexible hours so they can collect their children from school."

Wright said finding the right employer was key to keeping more women in engineering long term.

"Workplaces might have been unsupportive for women in the past but that hasn't been my experience at all," Wright said.