Delegates at the #9percentisnotenough conference in Birmingham

Engineering CEOs commit to tackling gender crisis

Image credit: John Deehan for IET

To mark International Women in Engineering Day, CEOs and senior leaders from top UK engineering companies have joined the IET in calling for urgent action to address the shortage of women in UK engineering.

Women currently account for only nine per cent of the UK’s engineering workforce, yet 63 per cent of UK engineering employers do not have gender diversity initiatives in place.

The call for industry to step up came at the start of the panel discussion that kicked off the IET’s own #9percentisnotenough conference, taking place today in Birmingham, which focuses on increasing gender diversity in UK engineering. Attending the event are engineering industry leaders, as well as senior HR professionals and representatives from industry, academia and other professional engineering institutions.

While many engineering companies already have strategies in place to encourage gender diversity within their own organisation, there is now an impetus and commitment for the industry as a whole to formally commit to taking concrete action to improve the nine per cent figure.

This commitment takes the form of one or more of the following actions:

  • Formal gender diversity programme to measure and report on female recruitment and retention
  • New approach to advertising jobs in order to attract more women
  • ‘Work returner’ programmes
  • Mentoring and sponsorship programmes
  • Career planning and flexible working
  • Affinity groups and networking opportunities for women
  • Promote apprenticeship and work experience programmes to girls
  • Awards and initiatives to celebrate female engineering role models, such as the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards

Professor Jeremy Watson CBE, IET President, said: “The time has come to stop talking about the problem and take definitive action. Not only is the lack of women in engineering compounding the skills shortage in the UK, but it also means UK companies are missing out on the benefits that come from a more diverse and balanced workforce. It’s great to see engineering leaders acknowledging the gravity of the shortage of women in engineering and committing to take industry-wide action to change the status quo.”

Commenting on the key issue of attracting and retaining female talent within the engineering industry, Dawn Elson, group engineering director at Merlin Entertainments, said: “The entire engineering industry in the UK has been wrestling with this diversity challenge for decades and the progress has been an increase from seven per cent to nine per cent in the past 20 years.

“We need to seriously address this challenge now, so this event is hugely important to: help us champion female engineering role models; better translate engineering careers to girls and the families who influence their career choice; and to understand how to enable qualified female engineers who have left the profession to return to it.”

The industry leaders committed to making the call are:

  • Peter Flint, CEO Building+ Places EMIA, AECOM
  • Sir Michael Arthur, President, Boeing Europe and Managing Director, Boeing UK and Ireland
  • Mark Elborne, CEO & President, GE UK & Ireland
  • Elizabeth Hill, Chief Product Engineer, Jaguar Land Rover
  • Norman Bone, Chairman and Managing Director, Leonardo MW Ltd
  • Dawn Elson, Group Engineering Director, Merlin Entertainments
  • James Harris, Managing Director UK and Europe, Mott MacDonald
  • Steve Hollingshead, Chief Executive Officer, J. Murphy and Sons Ltd
  • Mark Carne, Chief Executive, Network Rail
  • Nadia Savage, Director for High Speed Rail, Laing O’Rourke
  • Sharon White, CEO, Ofcom
  • Ian Ritchey, Group Chief Engineer, Rolls-Royce
  • Paul Gosling, VP Engineering, Thales UK
  • Marguerite Ulrich, Chief Human Resources Officer, Veolia UK and Ireland

In considering the impact both sexes can have in tackling the gender disparity, Peter Flint, chief executive, Building + Places EMIA, Aecom, declared: “Men have a massive role to play in addressing this issue. There should be more men in the room today. It’s a problem not just for women to solve – it’s for all of us.”

Elizabeth Hill, chief product engineer at Jaguar Land Rover, charged conference delegates with taking immediate action: “I urge you all to reflect as you go through today’s workshops on what you are going to do on Monday in attracting and retaining more women in our industries.”

Meanwhile, one of the more stereotypical preconceptions about engineering has been challenged with the news that there has been a 20 per cent reduction in the use of hard hats as the default symbol for engineers in magazine articles – the first fall in four years.

The Sainsbury Management Fellows Hard Hat Index has been tracking such images in 17 engineering magazines for the past five years. In that time 1,181 images of hard-hatted engineers have appeared in advertisements and articles, a repetition of cliché that the SMF believes damages the image of engineering and gives a narrow view of the profession.

Since the first Index was researched in 2013, the number of hard hats portrayed has risen year on year – until 2017. However, while the portrayal of hard-hatted engineers in editorial copy has slumped, the number has conversely soared in advertising images, up by 30 per cent.

David Falzani MBE, SMF President, said, “Our sector needs to show diverse images and role models of engineers so that gatekeepers and young people understand that we work across all industry sectors, in different environments and that engineering offers dynamic, creative and rewarding careers. The 'no hard hats' message is gaining momentum.”

According to the SMF, in its workshops with engineering undergraduates there was a consensus that advertisers should stop using hard hats and other stereotypical images and replace them with inspirational photos that tell better stories about the opportunities in engineering.

However, as part of E&T Magazine’s own recent work on challenging the nine per cent issue, anecdotal evidence has emerged from both female undergraduates and working female engineers suggesting that some women enjoy wearing hard hats. The primary concern for these professionals appears to be simply attracting more people to the industry, regardless of gender.

More information about International Women In Engineering Day.

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