Exploring the Gender Pay Gap in Engineering

By Emily Mangnall, People & Talent Executive February 17, 2020

As April approaches, organisations throughout the UK will be starting to report on their annual gender pay gap data. Last week I attended ‘Time for action: achieving a gender balance in engineering’, a discussion around the recent report from Royal Academy of Engineering and WISE into the gender pay gap within engineering. The event was well attended by both employers and large education institutions who discussed the engineering skills shortage and the gender inequality which exists within the industry, and in particular across senior roles. 

I feel at events like these talk naturally turns towards the causes of these statistics, partly to make sense of the findings and partly because they are easier to discuss than solutions. Solutions and progress around issues such as the pay gap, gender or ethnic minority representation and inclusion are always tricky. They take resilience, authentic support from the business, and company-wide change to processes and structures, some of which may have been embedded for years. It’s also extremely difficult to measure tangible results from these changes – which doesn’t go down well for companies which thrive off targets!

Ideas discussed to move forward were focussed on changes to recruitment:

  • Offering flexible working opportunities
  • Reviewing job descriptions to be free of biased language, removal of years’ experience and skills which aren’t necessary to the role
  • Well trained and representative interview panels who can confidently assess based on skill 
  • Exploring re-training & re-skilling members of your organisation
  • Fully supporting women who are returning to the workforce after a career break 

A number of ideas were shared around making changes to culture as well:

  • Transparent promotion & pay review process 
  • Putting an emphasis on line managers to put forward promotions rather than self nomination
  • Analysis of promotions based on demographics and holding your teams accountable
  • Creating a truly inclusive culture where socials, break time conversations and team ‘banter’ is accessible for all 
  • Providing access to female role models and mentors 

As always, progress also needs to be made in areas of society and the wider environment to support changes to business practices. The educational syllabus was challenged by both educators from leading engineering universities as well as top employers such as National Grid & BP. Current research from LinkedIn shows that the younger generation (and a higher percentage of women) prioritise jobs where their work can make a positive difference to society. This has huge potential for making a career in engineering attractive – we need to tell the story about how engineers can make a difference to climate change, develop technology to help combat homelessness or produce life saving medicines to inspire the next generation. The future of engineering is exciting! The This is Engineering campaign is doing a great job to show that. 

However, as Victoria Atkins, the Minister for Women, highlighted, the need for a shift in education goes deeper than just a change in syllabus. She spoke about the fact that  many people, never mind young females, aren’t aware of the huge impact women have had in engineering throughout history. For example, Marie Curie, Grace Hopper, Barbra McCintock – these women should be celebrated more and the impact they’ve had on engineering should be highlighted to young people as a way of offering a more representative range of role models.

All this made me reflect on what changes we need to see more broadly to achieve meaningful change. According to EngineeringUK we need 59,000 more engineers every year. However, when you look at advertising campaigns like the one below from Lego it feels like we’ve regressed in the last 50 years, rather than progressed.

The first image is from 1969, and the second 2019.

I fear advertisement campaigns like this and other social stereotypes around gender are reversing the hard work done by parents, schools and employers. As I said, it’s often much easier to talk about problems and causes rather than creating change. However, to achieve a real step-change towards gender parity within engineering or the workplace, it’s essential that we consistently challenge stereotypical attitudes around gender. I believe this is everyone’s responsibility, regardless of level or experience. Whether it’s about implementing a flexible and transparent culture in your workplace, encouraging the young women around you to look further and aspire higher, or calling out old fashioned attitudes which have no place in today’s society; we all have a part to play.

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