Talent scouts

Closing industry’s gender gap is a priority for some of the UK’s biggest employers of engineers


Sally Nicholson

Power system engineer,
National Grid

Women make great engineers and we simply don’t have enough of them in the workplace. Engineering is an exciting, fulfilling and challenging industry to work in, why wouldn’t women want to pursue a career in such a diverse and varied sector? The answer is probably that women don’t realise how many opportunities there are out there for an amazing career.

Many women are put off pursuing a career in engineering because it has a stereotypical reputation for being a ’man’s world’.

  • However, when you actually start working in the engineering industry you soon learn that gender becomes completely irrelevant. Women, like men, can excel in their chosen career paths, thriving on daily challenges of being a great engineer; leading on projects, being an expert in a technical field and contributing to a team task.

In my experience of working as an engineer, people have treated me with total respect; the fact that I am female has never been a consideration for me, never mind a concern.

Providing women and girls with role models of people who have succeeded in the engineering workplace is important in inspiring others to join the industry. Sharing insights and experiences of female engineers helps others to understand exactly what the role of an engineer actually is and the sorts of daily tasks and challenges that you might be involved with. I also think that seeing other women excel in an industry will give others the confidence to follow in their footsteps.

We’re involved in activities at school and college level to educate people before they make decisions about what disciplines to study and about the varied and rewarding careers that are available in engineering. We promote an inclusive working environment through our core company values and flexible working arrangements to ensure that all employees are valued.

Neil Langford

Recruitment marketing manager, GCHQ

The UK’s economic well being will only benefit from a more diverse workforce. Sector perception and stereotyping don’t help.

Also, more role models and better information for education providers is required.

Personally I think there are a number of issues:

  • Sector perception – traditionally seen as male dominated and hard work/manually intensive.
  • Stereotyping – done from an early age, even formative years at home. It needs dispelling and this approach is reinforced when individuals enter education so they feel opportunities are open regardless of gender.
  • Teachers, lecturers, careers advisors – better awareness of opportunities required.
  • Lack of visible role models – females do not have anyone to easily identify with.

Like all organisations, we find the ratio of applicants is male biased. However, female engineers that do apply and are successful are generally strong performers. Internally, we have a ’gender difference network’ that supports women in achieving their potential. We participate in STEMNet activities, encouraging our female engineers to visit local schools and inspire the next generation; likewise they
support careers fairs so potential applicants can talk face to face with successful women.

Traditionally, the sector is male orientated; this undoubtedly provides a range of different views and opinions but it can only be strengthened by a more diverse blend.

Nick Downing

Engineering manager, Arla Foods

We think that there is a real shortage of women taking up engineering positions. Quality engineers are in short supply and the perception is that it is a male’s role, which is surely a missed opportunity for employers and employee alike.

The misconception for females may be that engineering is just manual heavy labour. We need to focus our efforts on getting the reality out to the majority.

Engineering is more than working on breakdowns or getting covered in grease. Work is more about continuous improvements – root cause analysis and designing out issues. Multi-skilling has made for a more varied workload and gives people the opportunity to apply their learning across a broad scope of equipment. Specifying equipment and understanding reliability, efficiency, energy consumption and the environment are all things that the modern-day engineer has to include in the process of daily decisions.

Arla works closely with other industry leaders to make sure that we can provide high-quality training and qualifications to ensure that our manufacturing skills are world class. This includes a project called Eden Engineering, which is aimed at developing new engineers in the dairy industry. We want to recruit a diverse group of students and are strongly encouraging women to join. Personally, I would like to see at least 50 per cent of these apprenticeships go to females. We also intend to work with local schools and the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink to highlight the excellent opportunities that are available.

We aim to continually train our engineers, providing them with opportunities to develop while also equipping them with the skills that they need to progress their careers.