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Women shut out of top engineering jobs, gender pay gap report reveals

Image credit: Dreamstime

Women are “underrepresented at the highest levels” of the engineering profession according to Victoria Atkins, the minister for women, as a report underlying the gender pay gap in engineering lays bare the scale of the problem.

Conducted by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE), the report - 'Closing the engineering gender pay gap' - shows that just 12 per cent of engineers in the UK are women and they earn around 11 per cent less on average than their male counterparts.

This is largely due to an under-representation of women in more senior and higher-paid roles, rather than women getting paid less for the same jobs.

Speaking at the release of the report, Atkins said the most “startling” statistic was that 57 per cent of female engineers drop off the register of professional engineers by the age of 45, compared to just 17 per cent of their male counterparts.

“This shows there are workplace factors that need to be addressed,” she said. “It needs to be addressed because it makes good business sense.”

The UK is currently facing a severe skills shortage of engineers and it is estimated that an additional 59,000 will need to be added to the workforce every year to meet the growing demand.

Atkins recommended that employers should adopt “family-friendly policies” such as flexible working and shared parental leave to improve workplace flexibility for women and men.

Women are typically less likely to go into the engineering profession than men even though they fare better on average in key STEM areas.

Last year, the RAE trained a machine-learning algorithm to synthesise images of engineers, based on online search results, and found that the image of the profession remains predominantly white, male and enamoured with hard hats.

This persistent image problem for engineering has been blamed for discouraging young women from considering the profession as a possible career option.

The report recommends that employers implement transparent pay structures and grades, as well as reviewing the criteria for promotion.

To get the results, RAE commissioned WISE (the campaign for gender balance in science, technology and engineering) to analyse the pay data of nearly 42,000 engineers working in the UK, to approximate the gender pay gap for the engineering profession.

This analysis, with data voluntarily provided by 25 engineering organisations of different sizes and from different sectors, excludes non-engineering roles to help identify issues and challenges specific to the profession.

This approach differs from the mandatory gender pay gap reporting to government, which does not identify the professions of individuals in an organisation.

Jonathan Lyle, chair of the RAE’s 'Closing the gender pay gap' steering group, said: “Reducing both gender and race inequality is key to addressing the damaging shortage of engineering skills in the UK economy.

“Whilst we are making some modest progress in attracting more girls and women into engineering, our research shows that there remains much to be done to achieve gender equality in engineering careers.

“The good news is that there are well-proven steps that business leaders can and should take to improve how women engineers progress within their companies into more senior, more influential, more fulfilling, better rewarded roles.

“The best, most inclusive businesses are doing this well, critically underpinning their business success. Others make excuses about their gender pay gap, risking losing business and talent.”

Helen Wollaston, WISE chief executive said: “This isn’t really about pay and it isn’t really about women. It’s about good business.

“Our research found that a credible action plan to address the underlying causes of the gender pay gap helps recruit the best people; engage and motivate your employees, and gives a competitive edge when bidding for contracts from public sector clients.

"The recommendations are relevant to engineering employers of all sizes, whether or not they have to publish a gender pay gap report.”

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