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Female quotas: Call for government involvement

The government should get involved with the creation of quotas for women working in engineering, a leading figure has urged.

The government should get involved with set quotas for numbers of female workers employed in engineering, the president of the Institution of Engineering Technology (IET) said last week.
IET president Naomi Climer last week said “the time is right” for setting numbers of women employed by engineering firms. employed by engineering firms.

Only one in 10 engineers is female at present. Recent Treasury analysis showed 100,000 new construction workers were needed by 2020 (NCE 8 October).

“I’m somewhat reluctantly saying that quotas do need to be considered,” Climer told NCE.

“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.”

She added that making it a legal requirement for firms to publish gender breakdowns of their workforces should be considered.

“At least if companies are routinely reviewing their statistics and comparing with others, they should see that it’s possible to do better and start actively trying to improve their numbers without sacrificing staff quality,” said Climer.

“There is a compelling business case for companies to do this, but it does require consistent effort and some culture change - both difficult to sustain.

“We should consider mandating measuring and publishing statistics and reviewing against performance made. I’m starting to think that this would make a difference.

“This matters because Britain is not going to have enough engineers in the future, but we’re not tapping into the potential of half the population.”
Climer said dramatic change was needed.

“No one would suggest quotas as their first choice, including the people set to benefit from them,” she said. “I see them as a last resort, a blunt instrument - but there is evidence that they do work to bring a step change in numbers. And given the number of female engineers has remained unchanged now for several decades, something radical does need to happen.”

Civils firms warned that female worker quotas could create the wrong attitude to diversity.

Alasdair Reisner, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, warned that quotas may not be the best way to boost representation.

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.”

The IET is working with professionals’ trade union Prospect on a series of recommendations to encourage women into the construction industry. It is also working with the government and employers to establish an all-party parliamentary group for women working in science, technology and engineering.

Climer said last week: “Despite the best efforts, there has been little progress in attracting more women into engineering over the past few decades, so I feel that the time is right to force action through the use of quotas.

“Diversity is good for the bottom line, because mixed teams, whether of race, gender or age, are naturally more creative and therefore better able to come up with solutions for the problems engineers face. So it’s frustrating and disappointing that the sector’s glaring gender disparity has not been fixed.”

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne has set a target of increasing the proportion of women in his organisation’s workforce from 14% to 30% by 2018.

Meanwhile, Thames Tideway Tunnel bosses want 50% of the staff on the £4.1bn super sewer scheme to be women by the time the project is completed in 2023.

The Construction Industry Leadership Forum for Fairness, Inclusion and Respect (FIR) - made up of trade bodies, contractors and clients from the sector - aims to improve the experience and diversity of individuals working in construction.

Readers' comments (4)

  • Outrageous and discriminator - Climer is just wrong. Quotas are a lazy, unnatural, vehicle likely to lead to unintended consequences.

    This view misses the fact that, although we all have equal rights and should have equal opportunities, men and women are different physically, physiologically and psychologically. I have no doubt that there could and should be more female engineers but I baulk at the suggestion that a 50/50 split is the natural balance. It may be, but I have my doubts.

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  • Quotas are discriminatory. Why should any employer have to accept a second rate workforce, if you're good enough you get the job whether you are male or female.!

    Roger Colton

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  • I agree with both Dominic and Roger. A person should be appointed on their ability and qualifications to carry out the job they are appointed to do and not on whether they are male or female. More is required to be done by the powers that be to encourage both sexes to enter the Civil Engineering profession and become qualified either through the HNC/HND or the Degree route.

    Derek C Donald

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  • As a woman engineer I completely disagree with the idea of introducing quotas. In my opinion this is an ill advised route that would result in a perception that women are employed simply to "tick a box" and not on merit. There are times when it is hard enough to be taken seriously in this industry as a woman, quotas would set us back, not propel us forward.

    Instead, we need those women who are in industry to take a stand and get involved in promoting our profession to young women and girls throughout their schooling. Having the right role models could change so much for the face of our industry.

    We must not forget there are also challenges to retaining women in our industry and a one-size-fits all approach simply won't work. Employers need to do more to engage with their employees, both men and women, on how best to support them throughout their careers

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