Are we engineering gender inequality?
Skye Blair - Manager, Health, Safety, Environment & Quality
When I first chose to study engineering I knew that there was a shortage of women in the industry. Did I understand at the time what that would mean at the pointy end of my career when I’d be juggling work, family and – dare I say it – ambition? No, not at all.
Despite a lot of bravado in recent years, the number of women progressing to senior management in the engineering industry remains an issue.
According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) Data Explorer summary for the Professional, Scientific and Technical Services, female representation for the accounting, legal, consulting and engineering services is below the ‘all industry’ average at all management and professional levels, but above average in clerical and administrative roles.
Only 13% of these employers have set targets for the gender composition of their governing bodies. Half have a gender equality policy and less than a third have a gender equality strategy.
So why should we care about gender equality?
The WGEA Business Case for Gender Equality, March 2013, reports that "organisations that respect and value the diversity brought by both women and men are better able to attract and retain high performers and improve operational performance."
Furthermore, Women on Boards recommends organisations work towards a minimum gender balance of 40:40:20 (40% male, 40% female and 20% either male or female) at board and leadership levels in order to reach their full potential.
Three key factors in the gender diversification discussion are the attraction, retention and progression of professional women. Whilst there appears to be a focus on the attraction of women to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers, more attention could be given to how employers actively retain women and promote them beyond the administrative and technical levels.
Focussing on ‘attraction’ alone won’t address the gender issue. Dr Marlene Kanga AM reports in A Strategy for Inclusiveness, Well-being and Diversity in Engineering Workplaces, that there is a disproportionate number of women leaving the profession, especially in the 30-50 age group. She says this is due to family responsibilities and the lack of flexibility and appropriate support in the workplace.
Leadership training and mentoring is just one aspect in equipping future managers with the necessary skillset. Both are particularly important in helping women find the confidence to seek out and step up into key management positions, especially as their personal circumstances change (such as motherhood), allowing career decisions to be based on what is most rewarding and fulfilling.
The more we encourage women to seek out management positions, the more we support women in their roles as managers. Ultimately this will lead to a more diverse workforce.
What is your workplace doing to diversify and provide equal opportunities to all?
I encourage you to engage in this conversation, and celebrate and share your stories of success.