According to statistics from The Women’s Engineering Society*, only 9% of the engineering workforce, and a mere 6% of registered engineers and technicians (i.e. CEng, IEng, EngTech), are women.
At a time where the industry is facing massive skills shortages it seems strange that the UK has the lowest proportion of female engineers in Europe. Women make up a mere 11 per cent of the construction workforce but even this figure includes many who work behind a desk, often in design, management or secretarial roles. On building sites themselves, it is estimated that 99% of workers are men. The Office for National Statistics says that the number of women working as roofers, bricklayers and glaziers is so low that it is unmeasurable.
The construction sector has survived, even thrived, by importing engineers from India, China and Eastern Europe. Currently one in five engineering graduates in the UK is from overseas, but given that countries from all over the world are competing for these candidates, it’s simply not a sustainable model.
With 64% of engineering employers saying a shortage of engineers in the UK is a threat to their business, surely it makes sense to attack the gender diversity in the construction industry? Isn’t the only realistic solution to attract more women into engineering and make sure they stay in the profession?
Projects like Brunel University’s Women in Engineering programme could be the key. The programme supports female graduates to attain their full potential in the engineering profession and includes a £10,000 Women in Engineering Award for 30 selected female students.
Geoff Rodgers, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), Brunel University London says research evidence shows school children, and especially girls, can be turned off science very early in their careers and that it requires repeated interventions to counter that mind-set.
That’s why outreach activities are so important, to help create students who can go on to become ambassadors for their profession. Brunel University’s £4m grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England is to attract more women STEM students, but also to grow undergraduate numbers by 25% by 2020. As part of this push, they aim to have their students interacting with 30,000 11 to 14-year-old school pupils a year in a mixture of off and on campus sessions.
“We are at a critical moment in time – if the UK economy is going to continue to recover then we must make a significant dent in the gender imbalance in engineering now, and build Britain’s capacity to deliver home-grown engineers that support economic growth,” said Rodgers.
Holly Porter, who runs a networking group for female construction workers, Chicks With Bricks, says the industry has been pretty stagnant in terms of ratios of women to men for quite a long time. There are certain areas where things are a lot better, like the design industry. But if you look at manual careers the proportion of women is absolutely minimal.
In March this year, the construction training and registration body CITB conducted a study, which found that three quarters of employers believe sexism is the main reason why women are under-represented in the industry. While 78% of respondents thought a lack of female role models in the industry was a reason for the gender imbalance. In an article in The Guardian, Porter says there is a wider challenge to encourage young people not to see it as a male-only career.
“I think a lot of it is about perception,” she says. “The reason I set up Chicks With Bricks was because you just couldn’t find any female role models; they weren’t publicised. There was an element of: ‘if you’re a woman in construction, you keep your head down, don’t talk about it and pretend you’re a bloke’.”
A new scheme called Building Girls Up, run in partnership with the Government’s education programme, Inspiring the Future, will be coordinating workshops with 140,000 young women between the ages of 16 and 18, to encourage them to consider construction as a career.
Running in conjunction with this initiative is The ‘Built By Her’ campaign, created by property developer Marta de Sousa which aims to change the perception that the construction industry is solely a male world, inaccessible to women.
Marta and photographer Leonora Saunders are taking the campaign into schools and re-branding the industry, showing 16 – 18-year-old young women the opportunities available to them.
Those who are keen will be introduced to industry role models, potential employers and receive support from schemes such as the Prince’s Trust.
They are tackling the idea that women aren’t physically strong enough, or good enough – ingrained early in our lives – to work in building.
Of course, ultimately the key to addressing gender diversity within the construction industry is to employ candidates solely upon their ability to do the job – a difficult nut to crack? Not if the construction industry is determined to overcome its skills shortages.
Information for this blog has been taken from: https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/How_to_encourage_women_into_engineering