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Changing the mix

The industry still has a long way to go to even up its gender and ethnicity imbalance although some employers are attempting to tackle it.


Dawn Bonfield is an engineer and volunteer at the Women’s Engineering Society (WES). When we speak she is at a careers convention at North Hertfordshire College, trying to interest young women in an engineering career.

It is not going well. “No one is talking to me,” says Bonfield.

“The girls say they are not interested and most seem to head off to the hair and beauty and animal welfare stalls.”

For too long there has been a disproportionate balance of male and female ICE members

So far so stereotypical, and unfortunately statistics gathered by the ICE only bolster Bonfield’s concerns. As of this month, 8,936 of the ICE’s 84,717 members are women - a situation that is not good enough, according to ICE director general Nick Baveystock.

“For too long there has been a disproportionate balance of male and female ICE members,” he says.

“Female applications are rising, with graduate female numbers reaching 18%, and our under 19s engagement programme and collaborative work with other bodies has resulted in some great awareness initiatives.

“But the reality is that we struggle to attract women into the profession, and to retain them.

“Some may argue this does not matter, but I argue that it erodes our ability to offer imaginative and creative civil engineering solutions to societal needs,” he adds. 

There is a commercial as well as social imperative to right the imbalance, and efforts must continue.”

Bucking the trend

One company attempting to buck the trend is Bam Nuttall. Around 20% of its entry level staff are female, although the company admits that the percentage “plummets to a mere 7%” when these women “contemplate a move to a more senior role”.

Bam Nuttall is attempting to redress the balance. Not only is it a corporate member of WES (along with Arup, Hyder and National Grid), but it also has its Women Bring Engineering to Life initiative, which aims to create a working environment that attracts and then retains female staff.

But it’s not just gender diversity that’s an issue. The industry also has a problem with ethnic diversity.

According to the government’s 2013 Labour Market Statistics, only 5% of the UK’s engineering workforce is “black and minority ethnic” (BME).

Anecdotally we know the situation is bad but trying to find cold hard facts is tricky. The firms NCE spoke to all swerved the issue of ethnicity, with one spokesman saying his firm “would rather not reveal its BME stats as they were as bad as everyone else’s”.

Royal Academy of Engineering project manager Claire Donovan says that achieving ethnic and gender diversity is essential to foster new ideas from different perspectives.

“We need to increase our efforts to attract to the profession talents from those sectors of society that are currently under represented,” she says.

“The industry is already showing signs of skills shortages and we need to address this issue now if we want to meet the challenges of the future.”

  • WES is organising a National Women in Engineering Day on 23 June. To get involved go to

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