Why and how industry can do more to retain its female engineers

The Engineer’s latest Women In Engineering special reports that while there’s tentative evidence that more women are pursuing an engineering career, industry can do more to ensure they stay.

Whenever The Engineer looks at efforts to attract more women into industry there’s a predictable response from a small but vocal minority: stop banging the politically correct drum, the only thing that matters is that someone’s good at their job.

Women In Engineering 2014

In theory we couldn’t agree more. Gender (or race, sexuality and religion for that matter) should be irrelevant.

Unfortunately there’s plenty of evidence that, for a large number of employers, these factors do still have bearing, and are hampering industry’s ability to tap into the best engineering talent out there.

As we report in the cover story for our 2014 Women In Engineering special despite more than a decade of concerted action the proportion of female engineers in the UK is flat-lining at around 6%. In fact, since the recession, when a disproportionately high number of female engineers left, industry has actually lost more women than it has gained. And this is in spite of a 20 per cent increase in the number of female engineering graduates over the past decade and a general feeling that efforts to attract more women into a career in industry are tentatively bearing fruit.

Industry’s biggest problem, it seems, is not attracting women in the first place, but hanging on to them.

In this special issue we’ve attempted to get to the bottom of why this might be happening, as well as offer some practical suggestions on how industry can ensure that women enjoy the same opportunities for career progression as men.

We’ve looked at how companies can support women both during and after a maternity break, we’ve touched on the need to address the policy gap between the corporate level and the factory floor, and, perhaps most importantly, we’ve examined how industry needs to get to grips with the insidious issue of unconscious bias – a natural instinct to favour what we’re used to rather than be truly objective about someone’s abilities.

Contrary to the opinions of that small vocal minority –taking action to address these issues is not about some fluffy notion of political correctness but about ensuring that business gives itself the best chance of success. Not only are diverse teams, with different approaches to problem solving, more effective, but by removing the barriers to diversity, industry will ensure that it leaves no stone unturned in the search for the best engineering talent out there.

Click here to read our 2014 Women In Engineering special