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Engineering a Better Future for Women

Engineering a Better Future for Women

Friday May 15, 2015

It would take a million more women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths roles (STEM) to reach a critical mass of 30% of the workforce, according to recent analysis from WISE. The campaign found that in the last two years, the number of women working as professional engineers in the UK still only makes up 10% of the UK STEM Workforce.

This failure to include and promote women in STEM not only represents a loss of talent but is increasingly seen as an issue affecting economic growth and productivity. Employers are reporting skills gaps in many areas and thousands of both male and female skilled scientists, engineers, ICT professionals and technical personnel are needed to build a more sustainable economic future.

Additionally, research suggests that diverse teams which include men and women are important to innovation and economic development, as engineering is a people business that relies above all on team communication. Women have a vital role to play alongside their male colleagues in generating new solutions, opportunities, products and services.

So what can be done to boost the female talent pool from factory floor to boardroom, drive economic growth and address the gender talent gap?

When it comes to attraction, creative recruitment techniques executed with women in mind could help. Casting the net wider by promoting the possibilities to transition from another career into engineering could attract talented women from non-traditional disciplines and professions. A recent survey revealed that 44% of women in oil and gas engineering had worked in different industries such as retail and law before moving into the sector.

In the same survey, 89% said they would encourage a female friend to pursue a career in engineering, because it provides an opportunity to travel, offers interesting and varied work, good career prospects and earning potential. Mobilising female ambassadors to promote engineering as a career for women is already recognised as an effective strategy in encouraging young women to enter the profession. However, every opportunity should be taken by both men and women in the industry, as well as teachers and careers advisors, to remind women that the tool engineers use most is their brain, as engineering is both a trade and a profession.

Once women are in engineering roles, an idea that’s gaining traction is that companies need to create environments where women can do their best work and thrive. Many employers provide mentoring support for employees and this can be particularly beneficial for women working in STEM, where they are often in a minority and can benefit from additional encouragement and support. To help improve the issue, 95% of women in a recent survey agreed that mentors are important for career, yet 42% said they were neither a mentor nor a mentee (3). The implementation of formal mentoring programmes would enable talented women engineers to progress to senior positions and, in doing so, become the role models of tomorrow.

The path to equal gender representation would also be smoothed by giving female engineers the same recognition as their male colleagues, in terms of both pay and career opportunities. Although 75% of women in a recent survey said they feel welcome working in the oil and gas industry, almost half believe they do not get the same recognition as their male colleagues. Removing these barriers would increase the number of women in technical roles and field positions and in turn lead to greater numbers in management.

Finally, the under-representation of women in STEM isn’t the only concern; a continuing ‘leaky pipeline’ has been identified, where women in STEM education and employment leave their careers and struggle or fail to return. 39% have said in a recent survey that they would consider taking less money in return for more work flexibility, with many citing a better work life balance and spending more time with the family as the main reasons.

Companies that implement measures such as female-centric creative recruitment, positive promotion by current female engineers, mentoring support, equal pay opportunities and recognition, as well as work flexibility, should see their innovation, economic growth and productivity improve as they close the gender talent gap and recruit more women. 

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