Women in Engineering: Why supporting women in industry is essential

3 min read

By Lynn Siggins, Technology Consultant – Automation at Rockwell Automation

In an industry where women have been underrepresented, a recent study by Engineering UK has revealed that there has been a 6% increase in the proportion of women in engineering between 2010 – 2021. Whilst this may seem like a small proportion it is still a sign of progress – and a time to stimulate conversation of how we can do better. Rockwell Automation, along with many other organisations in this sector, has recognised this historic imbalance and made notable progress in bringing female talent into the industry and helping support women to make great strides in their career advancement. For instance, the Professional Women’s Council (PWC) is one of the longest-running Employee Resource Groups at Rockwell Automation, which focuses on professional development, mentoring, networking, and corporate awareness of women’s issues.

Globally, we are seeing more companies stepping up to support diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) efforts with a wide variety of tools and strategies. But we still have to question whether we are doing enough to attract and retain our female engineer workforce.

Representation is key

According to Harvard Business Review, an estimated 40% of women who earn engineering degrees either quit or never enter the profession. One of the proposed reasons for this statistic is that some women engineers experience gender bias.

And so there are two important aspects – employers need to provide unconscious bias training for all leaders and employees, and attract graduates to pursue a career in engineering. Unconscious bias training aims to remove gender prejudices within everyday work practices including recruitment, promotion and performance management. By improving gender representation and diversity from entry-level to senior management, companies will adopt a welcoming and inclusive culture.

Susana Gonzalez, Rockwell Automation’s first female EMEA President says, “Many studies have shown that diverse teams make better decisions, drive innovation, and achieve better results.”

With regards to attracting talent, many organisations have worked closely with schools on educational programmes which promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) opportunities. The number of women in STEM careers remains disproportionately low.

There are various ways in which organisations can invest in STEM education and better represent women in the industry. Where possible companies could consider sponsoring STEM programmes or scholarships. Internships and apprenticeships are also a great way of welcoming skilled females into the industry. For instance, career paths such as data scientist and cloud architect did not exist a decade ago yet they are now in high demand. As the business environment changes, so will workforce demographics.

Furthermore, discussing career decisions early on and eliminating stereotypes within the industry may help encourage female graduates to pursue a career in STEM. As we develop more role models in the industry through awareness days such as “International Women in Engineering Day” we will hopefully dismantle any reservations about suitability and equality for future generations.

Retaining workforces

In order to retain women in the engineering industry, there are a few key elements that organisations should take into consideration. For instance, the average gender pay gap for full-time employees in the UK has improved over the years but even in 2020 it still remains at 16.7% in favour of men.

We know there is still more work to be done, but as more young women pursue a career in engineering, and more women are able to step into roles within the upper quartile we will naturally begin to close the gender pay gap.

Organisations should prioritise inclusive, respectful and fair work environments. By doing so, power dynamics are likely to shift to a more neutral, diffused hierarchical system. By encouraging transparency, women may feel more inclined to report harassment and inequality without being persecuted. Then in the future, this will hopefully not be a reason for women leaving the industry altogether.

Delivering sustainable solutions

We are always striving to better understand and remove barriers to inclusion that may exist in our processes, procedures and everyday interactions. Cultivating an inclusive environment starts with providing learning and mentoring resources and equal opportunities for all.

The key to this approach is ensuring all voices are heard, and great ideas are recognised and credited throughout the organisation. By listening and acknowledging different opinions and approaches, we are more likely to find creative solutions.

And so, organisations have a great opportunity to help address the lack of diversity within the industry. By doing so, females will have a greater chance of positively contributing to the economy, communities, and future generations.

As an industry, we need to acknowledge progress is impossible without change. If we can do more for gender equality, we should.