Women remain as scarce as ever in engineering and advanced manufacturing. By the latest estimates, women make up only 13% and 9% of the US engineering and advanced manufacturing workforce respectively. These statistics reveal the state of stagnation over the last few decades. The numbers haven’t changed since 2001, in fact fact advanced manufacturing, the current estimate represents a decline of one per cent.
Why are less women drawn to pursue engineering? One suggestion: they are less competitive.
Researchers suggest that gender differences in psychological traits contribute to gender occupational segregation. They argue that women are generally more risk averse and less competitive than men, which affects the “choice of field of study, which in turn affects future career choice.” The report cites a study from the Netherlands that found even after accounting for grades, perceived mathematical ability and socioeconomic background, gender differences in competitive can account for 20% of their subject choice.
However, a study by Muriel Niederle, a professor at Stanford, and Lise Vesterlund found that women were much less confident in their abilities, and this caused them to shy away from situations in which they would have to compete with others.
One way to combat this is to give women more encouragement. Among STEM subjects, engineering continues to have one of the highest rate of attrition and women have a higher turnover than men. Several reasons have been posed for this, including an inflexible and demanding work environment that made work-family balance difficult and stigma consciousness. Indeed, in a recent survey by LVI Associates, 41% of engineering professionals say that a lack of accommodation for work-life balance and family is the main challenging to increase gender diversity.
Gender bias, whether incidental or deliberate, has a profound impact on attracting women into engineering roles. Dan Brook, a director of LVI Associates, comments that he has witnessed the effects first hand when it comes to recruiting female talent: “We had one individual, who got through to the final interview stage at a well-known engineering firm. She did her due diligence and saw that the board of directors were all men—so she pulled herself out of the process. She thought they wouldn’t suit her. This shows there’s a practical, as well as moral, reason to diversify your board and your company. Gender diversity, or a lack of it, has a real impact on talent acquisition. This is tangible.”
Changing the landscape
Change really has to come from the top down, advises Dan Brook, but he has observed a renewed commitment from legislators with regard to supporting diverse businesses, “I first heard about this in Texas a few years ago, where the government are supporting female or minority lead companies through a number of certification schemes, including the Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) Program and, nationally, the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE).”
The Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) Program was created to promote full and equal procurement opportunities for small business that are at least 51% owned by women or minority groups. Once their application is approved by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts (CPA), the company is considered ‘certified’ and agencies using them on contracts receive credit toward meeting established HUB goals.
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 the state 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.
Such programs play just a 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. 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.