Altering the gender divide within Engineering

Long has there been a debate surrounding the lack of parity between genders in the workplace – and the Engineering industry has been no different.

A study by Honeypot estimates that the proportion of female tech workers remains under 30% across Europe. With estimates of the science and engineering workforce being comprised of 83% males, it is unsurprising to see why this has been a prevalent issue in recent times.

As students progress through education, there has been a steady decline in the number of females that wish to work within engineering. Amongst girls aged 11-14, 46.4% considered a career in engineering. However, this fell to 25.4% for females aged between 16-18. Many teens have cited this as a result of few female role models, which has been relayed on to women that have previously considered a role in engineering but did not end up committing to the career.

If all countries matched progress on gender parity, as much as US$12tr could be added to the annual GDP growth by 2025, according to McKinsey. The movement towards diversity within engineering is thus more imperative than ever. This will not only bring in gender parity, but also the subsequent benefits of diverse perspectives and innovative ideas – resulting in increased productivity and profit margin.

A report by Personnel Today supported this, stating that approximately two-thirds of women are working in the ‘innovation economy’. Additionally, more gender diverse workforces have been found to increase levels of innovation. Boston Consultancy Group estimated that companies with a diverse workforce resulted in greater innovation and thus an increase of revenue by 19%.

As a result, there have been a variety of programmes and campaigns developed to facilitate the expansion and encouragement of women working within engineering, targeting females from earlier on in their careers. Some schools within Europe now have dedicated STEM programmes aiming to educate children on their career choices and paths, providing resources and time to embed the interest and exposure of engineering.

Non-profit organisations have worked on ‘STEM Days’ and workshops with schools to provide resources and training to facilitate further awareness and expertise for children. For example, the Centre for Industry Education Collaboration (CIEC) has created downloadable resources that aim to demonstrate the application of the STEM curricula in real-life contexts.

Moreover, the Stem Alliance initiative brings together a group of industries and Ministries of Education across Europe to promote STEM studies, jobs, teaching, and industry-supported education. Focusing more on teachers, the Royal Academy of Engineering offer a ‘Connecting STEM Teachers’ (CST) programme to support teachers across STEM subjects so that they have the appropriate amount of confidence and knowledge to help with teaching these topics in depth.

Similarly universities – for instance, Imperial College London and the Technical University of Munich — hold STEM-specific workshops and masterclasses for students in high school. The programmes were created to assist teens with learning about and experiencing different fields before they make their choices for further education.

A variety of organisations, from the Ministry of Higher Education and Research to the Board of University Deans as well as engineering schools, have joined the Charter for Gender Equality in Higher Education. The charter aims to encourage institutions to adjust recruitment measures for women and appoint gender equality officers. Across approximately 85 universities, 70 have appointed gender equality and diversity officers within France alone.

The movement towards diversity and inclusion has resulted in an increase of female scientists and engineers in the EU-28 countries. According to a study by Catalyst, the number of female scientists and engineers within these countries has increased by 28% over the last decade, now comprising of over a third (40.5%) of the workforce.

On a corporate level, companies like Amazon launched their ‘Amazon Amplify’ programme, which aims to increase the number of women in technology and innovation roles. From this, Amazon started another scheme called ‘AWS Get IT’, which targets younger people from diverse backgrounds to gain practical skills in technology.

With the general understanding that a more diverse workforce can bring in a greater level of performance within the business, ZF Friedrichshafen in Germany has become one of 11 companies that have partnered with Femtec to support female engineers plan their studies and organise their careers within engineering. 

Fortunately, it seems that the movement towards increasing diversity and gender parity across Europe is improving. Although in Germany, the proportion of women aged 30 to 34 that have a STEM qualification fell from 6% in 2005 to currently being 2.6%. On the contrary, France have been leading the way with regards to female engineers as numbers hit 16.8% of the engineering workforce being women. Just a fraction behind them are Luxembourg, where the workforce is currently comprised of 16.7% women.

The Financial Times estimate that, of the top 10 companies that are set to be ‘Diversity Leaders’ over the coming year, 9 out of 10 of those are from the DACH and Benelux regions across all industries. Engineering company, Infineon, have been placed in the top 5 for diversity leaders across Europe, which has stemmed from a push to increase the share of women in management positions at the company to 15% by 2020 and 20% in the long-term.

Over the last twelve months, Proco Global have observed that 21% of new mandates within the functional areas of engineering and manufacturing have required the presentation of a gender balanced shortlist.

Despite the growth in diversity and movement towards gender parity, there is a notable difference between those organizations who are addressing gender balance for reasons of growth, innovation and inclusivity and those who are simply focusing on diversity to achieve a given quota. Utilising the female workforce to bolster innovation within companies is vital – with the innovation mindset being six times higher in workplace cultures that are more equal, as indicated from a study by Accenture.

Whilst small steps are undoubtedly being made, a greater leap is needed to ensure diversity from senior management to executive-level professionals. More specifically, global organizations need to focus not only on how to attract and onboard female talent, but how to retain the female demographic within the engineering and manufacturing industry, which is and will continue to remain in excessive demand.

BCG | How diverse leadership teams boost innovation
STEM Potential Programme
Catalyst | Women in STEM
FT | Striving for inclusion: top European companies ranked
Lectura | ZF joins the femtec network

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