“If we can reach a stage where each man or woman is respected for the job they do, and is doing his or her best because the atmosphere is right, because they are proud of what we are and do and share in the general enthusiasm, then we are home,” said Ove Arup, in a seminal 1970 speech to his company.
Forty-six years later and the struggle for women to be “respected for the job they do” goes on.
A survey carried out by New Civil Engineer – released to time with National Women in Engineering Day – has found 53% of respondents had heard sexist comments in their workplace in the past 12 months, with 45% experiencing sexist behaviour directly.
Meanwhile, another survey of women engineers carried out by jobs website CV Library found that 71.7% of female engineers believe young women are not being made aware of the abundant career opportunities available in the sector.
And a significant gender imbalance at apprenticeship level could be undermining the engineering industry’s efforts to build a more diverse workforce, according to a leading firm.
New Civil Engineer’s survey polled 61 people, 26 of respondents were female.
Most respondents described attitudes towards gender equality in their workplace as “Very Good” (38%), or “Good” (34%), compared to “Okay” (19.35%) or ‘Poor’ (8%).
When asked: “Have you experienced sexist behaviour directly, at work?” Fifty five per cent answered no, while 45% answered yes.
Comments ranged from men noticing bias against women, women commenting on bias against women, and men complaining about “positive discrimination” against men. They ranged from being overlooked for a position or title based on gender, to casual faux-pas made in the break-room or on a construction site.
“Social events often revolve around drinking and sport of some sort – these are used for networking but the atmosphere can be very male,” said one respondent.
“[Sexism] is often subtle and comes in many forms. A simple example would be how often people of an older generation in particular who I meet for the first time just assume that I hold a lower level of seniority… partly understandable since the senior ranks of businesses in our industry can be a bit of a gentleman’s club,” said another.
Women in engineering
More than one in five respondents to the New Civil Engineer survey said that gender was a hindrance to professional development and more than one in five said that there were no women in senior roles in their companies.
“More needs to be done in schools to encourage progression down science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) routes so that the required qualifications can be sought for becoming an engineer. It is pointless telling companies to employ more women when the talent pool doesn’t exist because they were largely pushed away from STEM routes when younger,” says another respondent.
There are great opportunities in the sector for women, but we regularly notice a severe lack of female candidates applying to engineering roles
Lee Biggins, CV Library
CV Library polled more than 500 female engineers. It found that more than half 56.5% felt engineering was still viewed as a “male” profession and 92.5% stated that more women would want to work in the sector if they were taught about it from an early age.
“There are great opportunities in the sector for women, but we regularly notice a severe lack of female candidates applying to engineering roles,” said CV Library managing director Lee Biggins.
In the last six months the site had advertised roughly 105,000 engineering jobs which had received 2.1M applications, but only 9.2% of resumes were from female applicants.
Despite the fact that engineering is still a male-dominated industry, there are plenty of fantastic opportunities for women to embrace
Narina Sekhon, Women’s Engineering Society
“The findings… uncover the realities of what it’s like for many women to work in the sector. But, despite the fact that engineering is still a male-dominated industry, there are plenty of fantastic opportunities for women to embrace,” says Women’s Engineering Society project coordinator Narina Sekhon.
“We launched National Women in Engineering Day to raise the profile of females in engineering and focus on the amazing career opportunities available in this exciting sector. By working with a range of organisations and education bodies, we are taking steps to eliminate gender barriers once and for all,” says Sekhon
According to the most recent data from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, less than 8% of apprentices in engineering and manufacturing technologies are female and their numbers have declined since 2012. In construction, planning and the built environment, women represent less than 2% of apprentices and their proportion has also been in decline since 2012.
“Urgent, positive action is required to correct years of unintended gender bias in the industry,” says Aecom director, strategic planning and advisory Kate Morris.
Urgent, positive action is required to correct years of unintended gender bias in the industry
Kate Morris, Aecom
The company argues that apprenticeships are an increasingly part of this “positive action” and a vital route into engineering. Apprentices are mentored by experts, and get early entry into the profession without racking up large student debts – yet the package is not pulling in young women.
To combat this, the company has strategies to boost hiring of female talent, such as the inclusion of women at the key selection decision points during recruitment; from how job advertisements are pitched and where they are promoted, to ensuring that women play a greater role in the hiring decision-making process.
“As an industry, we must apply our problem-solving skills to tackle the lack of awareness and interest in engineering among emerging female talent,” says Morris.
“Disentangling the reality of today’s apprenticeships from outdated perceptions of blue collar manual labour will be part of the solution, along with efforts targeted at those who are harder to reach. It is vital that we showcase our profession to the young people the industry needs, rather than sitting back and waiting for them to find us.”
Aecom assistant engineer Samantha Stanbridge started “slightly differently” in her own words, to the average employee.
“I started as a receptionist, then they gave me the opportunity to join the apprenticeship,”
Stanbridge is at an early stage of her career, just two years into learning and earning, but already is out promoting the industry to young girls.
“I’m highly engaged in schools. We went to an all-girls school about a week ago, just sat there and gave them an activity to do. And they might think “I’m like you, I like the same things” and they feel like they can do it.
The apprentice talks to young kids, teenagers, school leavers, would-be graduates to share her experiences one-on-one.
“There’s a variety of engagements that we get involved in, but they’re all to really go along and speak to people about your experience… and not just telling them what a typical day would be like.”
- The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, at less than 10%, while Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus lead with nearly 30%.
- 64% of engineering employers say a shortage of engineers in the UK is a threat to their business.
- Women Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering: 2% in 2006 and 4% in 2014.
- A British Gas survey found almost half (48%) of young women do not consider careers in STEM sectors, citing a lack of STEM knowledge (30%), a perception that the industries are sexist (13%), and a belief that STEM careers are better suited to the opposite sex (9%).
- In 2010 nearly 100,000 female STEM graduates were unemployed or economically inactive.