I am sure everyone is aware of the major difference in the number of male and female engineers, especially in Australia. Engineering has always been a male-dominated industry, and even though things are starting to change, there is a long way to go before we reach a good level of diversity. While Australia is not the only country with this problem, we are one of the worst at it with around 12% of our engineering workforce being women. In Europe, 35% of engineers are women, Iran has over 50% of women in engineering. There is no reason why Australia can’t have these numbers.
There are several challenges to overcome if we are to improve our outcomes, particularly in education, workplace, promotions, work flexibility, and in addressing conscious and unconscious bias. Workplaces with gender equality have been shown to be better, more positive work environments because they reflect the real world, and they provide a wider, more balanced range of opinions, perspective and diversity.
Another, and perhaps the most compelling reason diversity is so important, is that we’re missing out on a huge amount of talent and potential innovation. By ignoring half the potential workforce, we are stifling creativity and innovation, and slowing down the progress of the industry as a whole. Add that to the fact that, in some engineering disciplines, there is a severe shortage of experienced professionals to complete the work already scheduled, this potential increase in the workforce would make a huge difference.
What can we do to fix this? I think if we look at the countries doing it right, we’ll learn a lot. One of the biggest challenges is overcoming the ingrained stigma of engineering still being considered as a ‘man’s world’, and I don’t think this is as prevalent anywhere in the world as it is in Australia. However, all my engineering clients are asking for more female engineers, there is a definite desire to change.
From a young age we need to nurture our daughters’ interest in building, problem solving and technology. Keep this up throughout their school years as well, make a conscious effort not to overemphasise the traditionally ‘girly’ things, and be guided by what they are interested in. Give them the chance to be interested in construction, and electronics, and engineering. Don’t allow other’s opinions to dissuade you from giving your children the best future they can have.
As a parent with young kids, I am looking to the future and can see hope with programs like Robogals by Marita Cheng, and a growing effort by large global corporations like Lego, Microsoft and Google in sponsoring girls teams in robotics tournaments and other programs. I am optimistic that we can overcome this engineering diversity crisis in Australia but it’s going to take a large portion of us, actively focusing on it, to make the change.
Executive Recruitment Consultant