Civils firms have warned that female worker quotas could lead to a dismissive attitude to diversity.
Institution of Engineering and Technology president Naomi Climer this week said “the time is right” for setting numbers of women employed by engineering firms.
Currently just one in 10 engineers is female, while recent Treasury analysis showed 100,000 new construction workers were needed by 2020.
But Alasdair Reisner, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, warned that quotas may not be the best way to improve diversity.
He said: “When quotas have been used in other areas, such as apprenticeships, they have tended to drive people towards a world of box ticking.
“We need to be getting away from the need for quotas, asking ourselves what we need to do as an industry to create a more diverse workforce.
“We are doing a lot of work to make the industry more open and more inviting to the broad demographic of the UK. Quotas are one way of achieving that aim but we would see it as a last resort.”
Meanwhile Climer told NCE she would like the government to get involved with creation of quotas.
“I’m somewhat reluctantly saying that quotas do need to be considered,” she said. “But when it comes to how these might work, I think that needs some more thought – with government and industry working together to create a framework that is both practical and achievable.”