International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) shines the spotlight on female engineers across the world, as well as acting as an important reminder that much more needs to be done in terms of recruitment and retention of women in the sector.
There has been some fantastic content shared to mark the day, from companies sharing video interviews with their talented engineers to thought leadership pieces from key sector individuals and opinions from women at a variety of stages of their careers in the field. It was also great to see 50 inspiring engineers featured in the Women Engineering Society’s Top 50 Women in Engineering: Sustainability awards.
However, while it may seem that there is a huge amount of conversation around INWED and 2020’s ‘Shape the World’ theme, in reality women account for only 12 percent of those working in engineering, showing that there is still some way to go.
Baroness Elizabeth Berridge, Minister for Women, wrote an insightful article for NCE on the importance of continuing to recognise women in engineering. She said: “What strikes me immediately, is the need to increase the number of girls that are taking the STEM subjects which then translate to jobs in the sector, and then the need to retain those women who do think it is the career for them.First and foremost it starts at school, we know the demand for STEM subjects in the engineering, construction and manufacturing sectors is growing, and as such we need to make these subjects more appealing.
“Part of this is by introducing an understanding of what each industry is like to work in. For example, to most people, the word engineering conjures images of hard hats and hi-vis jackets, but just last week I spoke to a young woman who was putting her expertise to use whilst working for Lush. And there are countless other examples of engineers working on things from artificial intelligence to mobile phones and driverless cars.
“These are the examples which we need to be sharing with children at a young age, to break down the dated stereotypes which are so often imposed onto them and show what a fulfilling career they could have as a result of pursuing STEM subjects.”
Baroness Berridge also made an important point about flexible working, and how making this more widespread in the sector could have real benefit. “We want to see more flexible working introduced in the engineering sector, to ensure that those women who are already in the workforce will stay, even when they decide to start a family, or need to take time to care for loved ones. Employers can make really simple adjustments, such as working from home or introducing additional carers’ leave. And we know that those that do this are able to develop a happier workforce, which in turn can lead to an increase in revenue.”
Mott MacDonald’s Liz Baldwin, divisional director for foundations and geotechnics, also shared her thoughts. “The wider context of global events has brought the importance of the topic [INWED] into sharp relief. As many of my female colleagues are struggling to balance the competing demands of work, a radically different home life and family commitments, it struck me just how important celebrating women in engineering is. Women in civil engineering still find themselves in the minority with the additional challenges that many are dealing with at this time.”
Baldwin said she has spent much of her career as the only woman on the team but that she has been lucky enough to observe the status quo changing. “In a recent project where the senior leadership had a high proportion of women, innovation was improved, the team dynamic was more exciting, there was real care for the wellbeing of teammates and performance was excellent – everybody had each other’s backs! Diversity attracted diversity and the team became fully diverse in every way – race, sex, age, diversity of thought.
“For me it has never been about positive discrimination or targets and I would be horrified to think I had got any job just because I am a woman. However, an internal report produced by Hewlett Packard found that women and people from a BAME background will only apply for a job if they meet 100% of the criteria. A man will apply if he meets 60% of criteria. That means that we are losing out on some brilliant talent, so we need to make sure we open the field to ensure we get the best person for the job, rather than the best person who applies.”
It has been really encouraging to see the level of support and activity for INWED this year, but it is important to keep in mind that only 12 percent of engineers are women. We look forward to seeing more organisations putting their strategies into action to address the recruitment and retention challenges, and to hopefully seeing an increase in these figures by INWED 2021.