When it comes to female engineering professionals, Latvia rules. The percentage of women within engineering in this Baltic State is almost four times that of the UK. Looking through the research provided by ‘Engineering UK 2012’ and ‘UKRC, Women and men in science, engineering and technology: the UK statistics guide 2010’, there are three areas which really stick out:
Apprenticeships are back in vogue. This can be attributed to a number of reasons: the cost of a degree; a government drive to get more young people into work; and perhaps a realisation that this is a great way to grow your own. Employers will no doubt complain that they have few female applicants for engineering apprenticeships; yet what are they doing to attract more women? And what are they doing to change cultural perceptions, industry assumptions and working practices?
Increasing the number of girls taking A Level Physics has got to be a priority. At the moment, out of all those doing A level Maths, only 20% also do Physics. The Institute of Physics have already made some steps to improve this ratio and turn a small step into a major impact.
Then we come to career choices. Here there is little qualitative evidence to say why women decide against a career in engineering. It could be down to engineers (men and women) being ‘corrupted’ from early in their university career to take up a different (and sometimes more lucrative) offer outside of the sector. Many are tempted out of engineering to become bankers, accountants, consultants and even lawyers. The combination of analytical, logical and mathematical thinking make engineering a hunting ground for corporate magpies.
Equally it could be the (limited) appeal of engineering careers, working environments, cultures and behaviours. Now this is where it is not as simple as it looks. A lot of organisations talk about making engineering more appealing to young women coming into the industry – and indeed that is a major step change. But it does feel as though employers are abdicating responsibility by always blaming the poor numbers of women graduating in engineering.
Shock, horror, engineering firms are male-dominated; but any woman in engineering must realise this. It is what organisations are or aren’t doing to combat this issue. Of course, many can put their hands up and say, ‘if we can’t recruit more women, what can we do?’ The truth is, a lot.
The working practices have suited men. Speaking to one engineering firm recently and the management of that firm (men predominately) consistently resist any flexible or part-time working. They won’t even entertain the idea. Equally there are many cultural aspects that can be addressed. More and more organisations are focused on addressing unconscious bias, but is it enough particularly given the current case of a female engineer from Rolls Royce suing her former employer for sex discrimination claiming that her life was made a misery by the laddish culture she worked in? There is debate about whether female networks are a good thing – a good support network or a sign of weakness? Opinion is divided. There are many ways of creating a more inclusive culture – yet often the focus is on supporting women (‘do more networking’, ‘be more assertive’) rather than making it an issue for everyone.
Take a look at http://webfoot.com/advice/women.in.eng.php – there’s some great advice for women considering a career in engineering. Including ‘prepare for being cold at work for the rest of your life’!
It’s easy for employers to complain about the fact that they can’t recruit more women engineers or even more men engineers. But is it simply down to supply and demand? Not entirely although with the recent estimate from Semta that over the next four years Britain will need to train 96,000 new engineers and scientists merely to replace those who retire we risk missing out on the manufacturing revival if the supply issue is not addressed..
The most enlightened organisations are targeting engineers like they would customers – building relationships with them, engaging them in their business and their brand, and allowing potential engineers to talk directly to their engineers. Because who do engineers believe? Yes, engineers.
What’s more, there’s a realisation (albeit not always acted upon) that recruiting female engineers isn’t simply about putting a woman in an ad or compelling agencies to put women on shortlists. It’s as much about the environment they come into as the work they will be doing.
Recently we worked with one large multinational engineering company to assess why women weren’t progressing in the organisation as well as they should be. Not surprisingly, one of the barriers was a ‘manager mindset’ and of course most of the managers were men. They just weren’t considering what women need to succeed. Now, that’s not the fault of the education system, is it?
To find out more about how we are helping organisations to find, keep and develop engineering talent in the UK and around the world, contact Lindsey Coombs - T: 07774 400267, E: email@example.com