Female engineer at BAE Systems

How to pay women engineers more

Image credit: BAE Systems

The gender pay gap in the UK is growing by the year, but a few engineering companies are bucking the trend.

Latest figures, released in April, show that the gender pay gap is actually growing in 45 per cent of the UK’s biggest firms.

Despite the general social push for equality and diversity, women continue to be paid less than men in 78 per cent of UK companies with over 250 employees, including those in the engineering and technology sectors. In January, a Tech Talent Charter report found that women held just 18 per cent of technical roles in UK businesses. According to the February 2019 Women in Leadership Survey from Sussex Innovation Centre, working women believe that unconscious bias from management is the main reason there are so few of them in leadership roles. A study released in March 2019 by Booking.com found that 42 per cent of women working in the technology sector feel that gender bias in the industry is worse than they had expected.

“The median pay gap is 12.4 per cent, but that’s just within the engineering sector, and there are lots of engineers in the non-​engineering sector for whom we don’t have figures,” says Elizabeth Donnelly, CEO of the Women’s Engineering Society.

Donnelly adds that although the pay gap is only 1.1 per cent at graduate level, on postgraduate entry, men are earning on average £36,000 per year to women’s £30,000.

There are, however, engineering and technology companies that have managed to keep their pay gap figures below the national average.

At Ferguson Marine Engineering, for example, although the mean hourly wage for women is 7.6 per cent lower than men’s, that’s still a lot better than the national average – and for median wage the gap is actually 10.1 per cent in favour of women.

Texecom, which makes electronic security products and is part of the Halma group, reported a 12.6 per cent gender pay gap this year, slightly over the industry average, partly because it recruited more women in entry-level and operator roles. The company says that it promotes flexible working and further flexibility for staff on maternity leave. It also works closely with recruiters to ensure the company runs a diverse application process.

BAE Systems reported a 9 per cent (mean) and 9.6 per cent (median) gender pay gap. In two areas of the business – surface ships and global combat systems munitions – the gaps are 2.3 and 4.2 per cent, respectively.

A company spokesperson told E&T that enhanced family leave policies designed to balance the demands of parenting and work, and policies to support female employees when they return to work after parental leave, have contributed to this. And so has evaluating senior leaders’ performance in terms of creativity, adaptability, embracing change and adjusting style to a situation. Collaboration with expert organisations such as Business in the Community, the Women’s Business Council, WISE and the Royal Academy of Engineering, enables the company to generate and share new ideas about workplace gender equality.

‘Keeping the pay gap in focus is the right thing to do so that we continue working to improve the situation. However, I believe we need to be looking at the causes more intently than at the result if we want to make a change.’

Carolyn Gindein, SPIE UK

For all these companies and for the industry as a whole, there is still much more to do. For a start, gender equality is as much about equality of opportunity and numbers as it is about pay.

Ferguson Marine CEO Gerry Marshall admits that only 6 per cent of the firm’s workforce is female. “Women are particularly under-represented in our higher-paid technical and senior roles, and this heavily influences our gender pay gap,” he says. “Our gender pay gap may fluctuate as we address the balance of the workforce. The engineering sector is historically male-​dominated and changing that will take time.”

Marshall adds that the company hopes to attract more women applicants for its modern apprentice programme. “We have trained employees to be STEM ambassadors, helping us to engage with local primary and secondary schools to inspire young women to take up STEM subject choices and to promote opportunities for women in engineering and technical roles,” he says. “We are also offering more work experience, under­graduate and graduate placements. These measures will need a period of time to take effect and have an impact. We will be monitoring progress on a regular basis and reporting on this in future gender pay gap statements.”

According to BAE Systems, in 2018 26 per cent of the company’s apprentices and 28 per cent of its graduates were female.

In some cases, recruiting more women at entry level and providing better working conditions has actually increased a company’s gender pay gap. For instance, Texecom attributes a widening gap from 8 per cent in 2017 to 12.6 per cent in 2018 to successful gender recruitment.

According to Donnelly at WES, discrimination still exists when it comes to promotion middle management and beyond, but it’s not necessarily deliberate. “Some recruitment panels might expect a woman to leave to have children, or a woman might be back from a break and slightly behind in her career. Some companies don’t know how to bring back returners, or don’t know how to accommodate flexible working.”

She adds: “Once you have women on the board, you get a board with a wider variety of perspectives who are more likely to implement some of these policies.”

Again, some companies are looking at ways of dealing with this issue. The BAE Systems spokesperson told E&T that the company’s senior leadership recruitment process was designed to draw from diverse candidate lists. Similar targeted development, mentoring and sponsorship programmes are in place to promote a more diverse leadership pipeline. BAE Systems says that it has 15 per cent more female senior executives now than in 2015.

Halma has introduced online affinity groups for working parents and women to give them a space to engage with each other and the organisation. A spokesperson told E&T that 46 per cent of the graduates from Halma’s Future Leaders Programme were women. This is an accelerated development programme for new graduates which aims to appoint them to board positions of Halma’s 40 companies within five years. The number of women attending Halma’s biannual leadership conference has increased from 14 per cent in 2017 to 22 per cent in 2019.

Halma also says that its Diversity and Inclusion Initiative encourages its operating companies to review the diversity of their directors. “Where companies decide that they need greater diversity to enhance their discussions and decision-making, they now invite a member of staff to join board meetings as a co-opted board member.”

The government target is that by next year, women will make up 33 per cent of the boards at FTSE 350 companies. Carolyn Gindein, So’SPIE Ladies Network representative at SPIE UK, would like to see government do more, though. Particularly when it comes to paternity.

“Culturally, the expectation is largely still that the women will take the career break,” she says. “I’ve spoken to many males who would like to have the opportunity but don’t feel it will be viewed well by colleagues or management, or they feel it will impact their career negatively as they’ve seen that happen to many women.”

Gindein believes that although a few companies are leading the way, most often it’s the case that they do only what’s required to comply rather than make changes that may be culturally difficult and costly. “Keeping the pay gap in focus is the right thing to do so that we continue working to improve the situation,” she says. “However, I believe that we need to be looking at the causes more intently than at the results, if we want to make a change.”

Donnelly agrees. “The overall industry pay gap will come down over time, but only when there is a change in workplace practices that enables more women to work in engineering and rise to senior levels.”

She adds: “If things have worked one way for a long time, and that way is making the company successful, but there’s a gender pay gap, people don’t always know what to do to put that right.”

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