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Why we need more female talent in engineering, and how women can thrive in the industry

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Paula Tinkler is Commercial Director at Chemoxy International, a Teesside-based chemical engineering company that develops and manufactures specialist products for a wide range of industries. Here, she shares why female talent is so important for the engineering industry, and what we can do to increase the participation and success of women in STEM sectors.

There’s no doubt that the engineering industry is an exciting place to work: after all, what could be more satisfying than designing and producing innovative new products that can make a real difference to the world? In Britain, there’s currently a huge demand for qualified engineers — meaning there’s no shortage of exciting roles on offer.

But, despite the surplus of opportunities, the UK engineering sector has faced huge difficulties attracting and retaining female employees, with women accounting for just 11% of the entire engineering workforce as of 2017 (WES). So, it’s clear that employers need to be doing much more to attract female talent, including making sure that their workplaces are female-friendly environments where women feel they can succeed.

In this article, I’ll be discussing why the talent of female engineers has the potential to revolutionise the engineering sector and talk about what employers can do to give aspiring female engineers the help they need to thrive. Just read on to learn more, including my top tips for women who are looking to break into the industry. 

Why is female talent so crucial to the engineering industry?

Put simply: the lack of female engineers is alarming because it means that the industry is missing out on an astonishing amount of hidden talent. If one half of the human talent pool feel that a certain sector is ‘not for them’, then a great deal of potential engineering talent is lost. There is also currently an engineering skills shortfall in the UK, so encouraging women to qualify will help to bridge this gap and ensure we have enough talented individuals to carry out vital work.

A more diverse workforce is also thought to be driving force behind innovation, with a global survey from Forbes showing that over 85% over corporate leaders agree that diverse, inclusive workplaces foster new ideas and innovation. Essentially, encouraging female talent is the key to creating a stronger, more productive engineering industry overall.

What can be done to encourage women into engineering roles?

Perhaps the biggest reason that more young women don’t give much consideration to STEM careers is to do with a lack of visible role models and information about potential careers, which feeds the misconception that engineering is for men. If girls and young women had access to more information about engineering careers during their education, then it’s more likely they’ll choose to go down that path later in life. So, it’s vital that employers give young women a chance to hear from other women who have carved out successful careers in engineering.

We know that role models can play a huge role in encouraging young people to join certain industries, so one very effective way to get the message about STEM careers for employers to reach out women and girls at an early age. Working with schools and colleges — for instance, sending female employees to speak to students about what life as an engineer is like — can make a lasting impression on young people, and it also allows employers to reach a huge pool of potential talent. Where appropriate and safe to do so, offering schools a tour of the business premises can also be a great way to give young people a glimpse into the engineering sector.

Apprenticeships, work experience schemes, and graduate training programmes are all also great ways to attract young talent to the industry and will give young women a chance to get a foot in the door.

What can employers do to make the industry more female-friendly?

The change we need isn’t just limited to recruitment: we need to help women to succeed once they’ve been employed, too. In terms of making the day-to-day workplace an accommodating place where women can succeed, employers need to make sure that they make women feel comfortable and supported while at work.

This means that employers need to make sure that equal pay policies are enforced and that women can feel safe and comfortable when working in what may well be a male-dominated environment. Employers will also need to make sure that their working culture is as family-friendly as possible, as this will mean that working mothers are not disproportionately held back by family and childcare commitments. Offering fair maternity leave packages and allowing for flexible working will show female engineers that an employer will be considerate of their needs and that they’ll work with them to help them reach their goals.

I’m a woman with aspirations to work in engineering. What can I do to give myself the best chance of success?

If you’re a woman who’s interested in starting a career in engineering, then congratulations! You’ve made the first step towards what could be an exciting and extremely rewarding career. There’s currently a wealth of apprenticeships and educational opportunities available, so take a look at Prospects to discover what’s on offer.

If you’re lucky enough to already have an opportunity or apprenticeship in engineering, but want to advance your career, then consider asking someone in a senior position to be your mentor. Mentoring is one the best ways to get ahead, as you’ll learn about your chosen industry and company in greater depth if you have an inside expert as your guide. As long as they have the time to spare, they’ll probably be more than happy to pass on the secrets of their success to you.

If you’re already qualified, then you can also consider joining a professional network, like WISE: this can help with networking and making contacts within the industry, and it can also be a valuable way to glean knowledge from other female engineers.

The lack of female engineers means that the industry is currently missing out on a great deal of talent, but there are steps employers can take to help address the gender imbalance. By helping to spread the word and break down the illusion that engineering is a masculine profession, and by offering female-friendly policies in the workplace, employers can empower women to reach their full potential.