How to improve gender diversity in engineering and beyond

These five points can help firms diversify the gender balance of their workforce

According to EngineeringUK, 14.5% of the country’s engineers are women. While this imbalance is a significant challenge for the sector, the share of women taking up engineering occupations has risen by around 20%, or 200,000, in the last four years; but there is still more work to do to improve gender diversity in this space.

In 2021, EngineeringUK CEO Dr Hilary Leevers, said, “Women make up half the population, but we draw on such a small proportion of their talent – we, and the engineering sector as a whole, need to work harder to drive change.”

We’re working to improve gender diversity    

At Civic Engineers, we’ve made good progress to improve gender diversity and we currently have a gender split of almost 40% female employees out of 162 staff.

As our teams work across some of the country’s biggest civil and structural engineering projects, achieving balance really matters because it brings different perspectives to the many engineering problems that we look to solve daily.    

Whether it’s engineering or another discipline there are steps you can take to make improvements to gender diversity and encourage positive change. 

1. Recognise and respond to different needs 

While our graduate numbers are around 50/50 in terms of gender split, we struggle to recruit women into more senior engineering positions.

There are several reasons behind this, but one is an incorrect assumption that engineering can’t be sustained as a career for women once they’ve had a career break, be it due to maternity leave or taking on caring duties. Those who take a career break commonly face issues with their confidence.

If you are serious about wanting to enhance diversity and attract more women at a senior level, address such perceived barriers and be supportive. Time out of work can be extremely beneficial in bringing a unique perspective to the wider mindset of a team.  

Think about pairing up younger women in your business with senior female role models – our junior engineers find mentoring extremely beneficial.

 2. Do your research and collaborate   

Consulting colleagues is an excellent way to seek new ideas to stop gender bias in its tracks. Use workbuzz to run a quarterly staff survey, which breaks down the results by demographics including gender.

Make sure that your leadership team has access to the results and importantly – acts on them. As we’ve gradually returned to the office following the pandemic, we’ve used survey results to inform our ‘Better Normal’ policy which enables true flexibility in terms of where our engineers can work and the times they can start and finish.

This enables everyone to juggle their life commitments whether that’s school pickups or being available for close friends and family. For women especially, supportive policies like this can help reinforce company-wide values and take away any feelings of guilt.

3. Be mindful of your wording and its tone

The words you choose are critical. Much of the gender bias in society is often unintentional. We’re really conscious about this and take great efforts to keep our language gender-neutral and inclusive.

Think about how you might advertise a job for instance – what methods are being used and how is the language being deployed? There are tools you can use to double-check your wording. This free gender language decoder helps to check job advertisements and identify subtle bias. We’ve amended several of our draft job descriptions using this tool.    

Remember to also celebrate the women who are driving your business. We help our engineers to tell their story and inspire others, working with local schools and universities to encourage young females into STEM academic disciplines. This could also mean celebrating events on your social media channels such as International Day of Women and Girls in Science (11 Feb), International Women’s Day (8 March) or International Women in Engineering Day (23 June).

4. Lead with values

A ‘values-led’ approach should underpin everything – driving the work you do, how you do it, and how you treat each other – to appeal to a diverse range of people. For example, we believe at Civic Engineers that engineering is ultimately about helping the world become a better place. Who wouldn’t want to get behind a universal value like that?

 5. Create and sustain a culture of understanding

Business leaders need to drive a strong culture that leads to better understanding and is helpful to all employees in achieving a good work-life balance.

Workplace culture is a bit like having a goldfish bowl. It’s hugely important to make sure everything is clean, safe and appealing before you bring more fish into the bowl.

In this context, the physical layout of a workplace is also important. We’re going through a complete refresh of our studios and are talking to our staff about locations and the facilities we have to factor in, one example is spaces where it’s possible for someone to go and breastfeed.

Introducing policies to support women in the workplace and inspire the next generation that are coming through is also crucial. We continually assess our staff support packages for everyone and are proud to have brought in a menopause policy, enhanced maternity pay, enhanced shared parental leave and paid dependency leave.

It’s our job, as business leaders, to understand the unique pressures and barriers women are faced with, tackle them and ensure the culture is inclusive.

Co-authored by Head of People and Culture Caroline Todd and People and Culture Manager Kat Dewell at Civic Engineers.

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