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Gender diversity in engineering: perception vs. reality
Gender diversity within engineering is not a new issue, but our recent Voice of the Workforce survey of over 2,500 engineers has highlighted how the profession and industry continues to be very male dominated. With females representing only 6% of survey respondents, it seems that gender diversity remains an issue within the industry.
Further results from the survey indicate that gender diversity is seen to be improving; over half (51%) said they believe the workforce is becoming more gender diverse. Emma Nicholls, Managing Director of Your Red Dress Ltd, which helps organisations attract, retain and develop talented female leaders, comments:
“It is positive to learn that 52% of respondents from the survey believe gender diversity is improving. Having worked in the engineering sector for many years, I have seen an increase in the energy and enthusiasm of discussions around improving the number of female engineers.”
“However, as many sectors find themselves facing or fast approaching the tipping point for skills shortages, there needs to be a call to action by industry leaders to raise their game.”
The rail and water sectors are particularly positive about the level of change happening, with 72% of rail engineers and 58% of water and environment engineers saying they believe gender diversity is improving. The water and environment sector also had the highest proportion of female respondents (15%).
Stuart Minchin, Divisional Manager - Water & Environment, Matchtech, comments on why confidence is high in the sector:
“We are increasingly finding that companies in the water sector are holding diversity in extremely high regard and are creating roles to target and address diversity and social inclusion. Having dedicated resource to help drive diversity will not only help address the gender gap but will also go some way in reducing the skills shortage we find across the infrastructure sector.”
In contrast, only 3% of maritime respondents were female, highlighting that whilst progress is being made in some sectors, others are lagging behind.
Natalie Desty, Divisional Manager - Maritime, Matchtech, comments:
“Having an average of 6% of female respondents is an alarming statistic; having far less in maritime is a clear call to action that the sector needs to make proactive steps to initiate change. Leaving the problem to someone else won’t fill the current opportunities.”
Aside from sector variances, there were also differences in opinions between the genders. 41% of females believe gender diversity is staying the same and 10% believe it is declining, contrasting to 35% and 5% of males.
But why is gender diversity important? And what action is being taken to address the issue?
In a skills short industry like engineering (where over two thirds of engineers believe there is a skill shortage), to remain productive and competitive and meet the demands of the commercial, consumer and public sector markets, the industry needs all hands on deck.
In the survey, promoting engineering as a career choice to younger generations, apprenticeships and retraining and upskilling current workers were all identified as important factors in addressing the skills shortage. Encouraging women into engineering can only help to further plug the skills gap.
Natalie Desty comments on the positive benefits a diverse workforce can bring:
“Creating a diverse workforce, at all levels, is simply better business; blended teams bring diverse skills and experience. There are lots of initiatives out there but more needs to be done to encourage girls to see engineering as a reputable and exciting career choice, particularly within less well known sectors like maritime.”
Whose responsibility is it to inspire change?
Over a third of respondents believe that diversity and inclusion is the responsibility of everyone in the industry. Employers of course can have a big influence but only one third (33%) of engineers said their organisation had communicated what it is doing to address gender diversity. Examining this further, half of respondents who worked for larger companies reported that their organisation had communicated the steps it is taking compared to just 23% of the SME workforce.
What other successful ways can we improve gender diversity within engineering?
Providing better flexible working practices and offering outreach activities with schools and universities in order to raise the profile of the industry were both seen as effective strategies by the survey respondents. In addition, addressing unconscious bias in management/leadership teams and encouraging and supporting females to transfer into the industry from other industries were also seen as important factors.
But it is not just a case of attracting women into industry; it is also about retention as Dr Sarah Peers, Vice President of the Women’s Engineering Society, highlights:
“Although there is much to do to increase the numbers of young people and women entering engineering, there is possibly even more to do to stem the ‘leaky pipeline’ where the majority of women engineers have left their chosen professional engineering institutions by the time they are in their 40’s (57% compared to 17% of men). The majority of women returners (60%) report barriers to returning to engineering.”
If you would like to find out more about how your views compare to those in your sector, take a look at our Voice of the Workforce online tool.
If you are looking for a new opportunity, take a look at our current vacancies.
Keep an eye out for our Q&A session coming soon with Emma Nicholls, Managing Director, Your Red Dress Ltd to discuss her thoughts on the findings of the Voice of the Workforce research and what her company is doing to make a difference in the field of gender diversity.
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