The engineering paradox: these statistics reveal the state of stagnation over the last few decades. The numbers haven’t changed since 2001, in fact advanced manufacturing, the current estimate represents a decline of 1%.
Why then, are less women drawn to pursue a path in the engineering field? Perhaps the foundations of the problem lie deep within a gendered stereotype; brandished as an age-old trend which begins in school and higher education, then transpires in the corporate ecosystem. After all, existing studies highlight a low participation of young females, with only 8% of engineering apprenticeship starts and 16% of engineering and technology first degree entrants recorded in 2018.
One way to combat this is to give women more encouragement. Among STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects, engineering continues to have one of the largest rates of attrition and women have a higher turnover than men. Some reasons may include stigma consciousness or an inflexible work environment; one that made work-life balance difficult. In a survey conducted by LVI Associates, 41% of engineering professionals report that a lack of work-life balance is a major challenge to increase gender diversity.
Gender bias, whether incidental or deliberate, has a profound impact on attracting women into engineering roles. Dan Brook, Director of LVI Associates, comments that he has witnessed the effects first hand: “we had one individual who got through to the final interview stage. She did her due diligence and saw that the board of directors were all men—so she pulled herself out of the process. This shows there’s a practical, as well as moral, reason to diversify your board and company. Gender diversity, or a lack of it, has a real impact on talent acquisition. This is tangible.”
An evolving landscape
However, change is emerging on the horizon – notable programs and intervention schemes at an earlier level point to a brighter future. Concerted efforts from WISE, a community interest company, operates with a principal ethos in mind – to boost the engineering female talent pool from classroom to the boardroom. Through ‘Experience Days’ and the ‘Inspire Program’, WISE targets young females, at a critical decision point in their educational careers, to promote confidence and change the dial in a male-dominated industry.
Over the years, the European Commission (EC) formulated a regulatory framework that challenges the status quo and national decision-making policies. The EC’s Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 sets out a commitment to combat gender mainstreaming; leveraging women’s economic independence and narrowing the gender gap, not only in politics, but also in STEM related fields.
Looking across the water to Texas, “legislators and governing bodies are supporting female or minority lead companies through a number of certification schemes” reports Dan Brook. The Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) Program was created to promote equal procurement opportunities for small business that are at least 51% owned by women or minority groups. In Texas, the state-wide HUB goals for procurement are 11.2% for heavy construction other than building contracts and 21.1% for all building construction.
Nationally, the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) operates in a similar fashion. Where for-profit small businesses have at least a 51% interest and also control management and daily business operations, they can receive a DBE certification from the relevant state-generally Uniform Certification Program (UCP). As recipients of financial assistance from the Department of Transportation, state and local transportation agencies are then responsible to establish DBE subcontracting goals.
Building for the future
Such programs play a significant part in driving diversity in engineering. Not all companies can, or will be, minority-led, but they need to find ways to increase their gender balance. All firms need to create an integrated talent pipeline that hires and promotes female talent. The first step to accomplishing this is to understand why female engineers exit from the recruitment process.
Attracting and recruiting women into the profession is a major victory that pushes the needle on diversity. Recruiters have a unique opportunity to influence the talent pipeline and embed diverse strategies from top to bottom. Alex Hayes, Director – Europe at LVI Associates, offers advice on how best to attract female employees into the engineering sector. Hayes comments, “from tangible gender equality targets, educational programs, to actively promoting female employees, there has to be genuine substance within your organization when it comes to gender diversity.”
As recruiters, we also play an integral role to make a lasting, holistic impact in the workplace. Speaking to Hanna Ito, Vice President at LVI Associates, during the interview process she advises clients to, “take time to address the current ratio of females to males, but also, outline the opportunities which have been created for females in the business.”
On the flip side, Hanna Ito provides further guidance to candidates, “don’t see being the minority gender as a setback – see it as an opportunity to play on your strengths and what you bring to the organization. We actually see a lot of hiring managers reach out to us on ways that they can attract more female engineers into the business.”
At LVI Associates, there is a library of powerful resources that help move organizations under construction to create a balanced and talented workforce. Download our complimentary report that takes a deep dive into the engineering, manufacturing, transport, and logistics responses from "Why Women Withdraw from the Recruitment Process".
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