Women Within The Engineering Industry

This article was written by Rachael Wilde, our Talent Aquisition Lead at Advantage Resourcing.

Even after 10 years of working in the Recruitment industry and having developed the cynical recruiter mindset, I still smile slightly and ‘tip my cap’ each time I see a CV from a female for a typically male-orientated role. I find it so liberating that a woman has considered a career within engineering, whether it was her original intention or not, especially as the Young Women’s Trust has warned that the UK ‘may be unable to meet the demand for skilled workers in sectors such as engineering’ as a result of gender biased career choices. 

Working within a male-dominated industry is challenging at times. I believe it takes a very strong person to overcome the obstacles and the ‘old school’ mindset thrown their way. There are women who I imagine can adapt to this unbalanced environment quicker than others, whether it’s due to the particular job role, company, personality or their upbringing. Claire Spillane from Westermans International wrote a blog for the Women in Engineering Society about “A Women In Welding”, as she decided to join her family’s welding business at the same time as her brother, after making the decision to leave her career as a Physiotherapy Assistant. Claire highlights the difficulties of adapting and establishing herself not only to a predominantly male environment, but alongside her brother and her father who comprise similar personalities in comparison to her. However, she has made being a woman in this environment work to her advantage. 

"Sometimes I'm asked if I ever feel like a woman in a man's world. I must say that being blonde and female in this industry is certainly an unusual factor. Does it open doors? Of course it does. You are noticed and remembered for one, and that must be a good thing when you are in a suppliers' market. It maybe even get you a sales lead, or better still, discounts on machinery. However, believe it or not, hands-on welders don't notice me that much really."

"I don't think that it is just welding or engineering is a male dominated world, the hardest part was proving to my father and also my brother that I was capable of running a business in such industry. They had a bond by gender so I had to rise above that but I think I have cracked it now." 

Claire Spillane from Westermans International, www.westermans.com/ "A Woman In Welding" WES

However, not all women have had the same experience as Claire Spillane and it’s disheartening to read that someone has had to change their career path due to the effect of others’ actions and prejudices.

"Glynn Davies, 25, said she started an apprenticeship in construction but did not complete it due to the discrimination she faced. She said: "I wanted to be a bricklayer so I started an apprenticeship with City and Guilds. I was 17 and couldn't wait to get muddy. From the moment I stepped on to the building side, I was automatically treated differently. There was one other woman but we were two out of 20 and it quickly became difficult to persevere." Davies said she experienced constant sexist remarks such as "get us a cuppa tea" or "be careful, you don't want to break a nail". "When I approached my course coordinator, the general response was "it's only banter" or, my favourite, "don't be emotional". The whole experience was irritating and emotionally draining so I stopped."

Women lagging behind in race for apprenticeships - The Guardian, 2016

In my career, I have experienced companies that specified they would like males or females for a particular job role. I used to recruit for Production & Warehouse Operatives for a company who sell protein powder and also beauty products. Some hiring managers preferred women to work with beauty products "due to small fingers", as it was easier to pack the small products, and "strong people" for the protein side, due to the bulkier items. 

I would always provide a mix of candidates for both sides of the business - some candidates would come in and blow the stereotype out of the water and exceed the KPIs in what would be classed as an opposed area, resulting in a small internal cheer from myself. 

According to a 2017 Young Women’s Trust survey, there were “25 men for every woman starting an apprenticeship in engineering.” 

"Despite 71% of young people agreeing that engineering is a career equally suited to men and women, young women tell us that they feel locked out of certain professions and funnelled down a narrow range of career paths. Barriers frequently cited in conversations with young women range from a lack of flexibility, support or mentoring to discrimination, harassment and bullying. Many organisations are making efforts to tackle these barriers but the perception for many young women, particularly those taking their first steps into a career via an apprenticeship, is that they are not welcome in those sectors and have little chance of being successful. These perceptions and indeed the reality faced by many young women entering sectors such as engineering, construction and IT, continue to limit the pool of talent available to close the skills gaps."

Young Women's Trust November 2017 Young Women & Apprentices: Still not working? 

What is it that influences our career choice?

According to LinkedIn Insights, the Engineering market of just under 79,000 engineers within the UK is made up of 93% men and 7% women. In terms of location, the female Engineering population within Royal Leamington Spa is 14%, the highest within the UK, and global, well-established brands such as Jaguar Land Rover, Ricardo & Aston Martin are the top employers in this area for engineers. Could working for these recognised brands entice females to explore a career in engineering? Could their marketing and recruitment teams have programmes in place with local schools and colleges to highlight working within the engineering industry? There are 40 other locations within the UK which have less than 5% females working within an engineering role. 

What are these companies doing differently to bridge the gap between gender within engineering? 

Jaguar Land Rover offer ‘Women In Engineering Sponsored Schemes’. Not only do they actively market working for them within the local community, they also offer degree apprenticeships, plus bursaries for its students to learn there (financial gain). 

(Snipped from the JLR Women in Engineering sponsored scheme.)

I personally think schemes like this are a brilliant idea. When I was in school, and even having an engineer for a father, I don’t believe I was ever guided in the direction of an engineering based or even a ‘manual’ career choice.  As a talkative person, I found myself leaning towards jobs which would let me talk to people. Looking back, it does make me think that if I was aware of opportunities, or was nudged in another direction to look at my other skills, would I be using the methodical skill set which I have always had within another arena? 

I did also find it interesting that not only are the number of women within a male dominated role/industry rising, but can the situation be flipped to explore how difficult it is for males to succeed within a typically female dominated industry? 

In conclusion, isn’t it about time that we see more companies actively trying to make their industry more appealing to both men and women? Are educational establishments (and parents/guardians) doing more to highlight unconventional career options to both - male and female genders? Time will tell.