The engineering gender gap: a thing of the past?
On the occasion of International Women's Day on 8 March, recruitment specialist Robert Walters puts the spotlight on female engineers this year. They are scarce, as it turns out, and are still less likely to grow into top positions compared to their male colleagues. "A pity" says Julide Tunali, senior manager and specialist in recruiting engineers. She explains how a good balance between men and women ensures that the competences within the team are balanced, which results in better overall performance.
Shortage of engineers
According to Eurostat data, there is a worldwide shortage of engineers and especially female engineers. Julide: "One of the reasons for this is the problem of inflow of female students. Girls still choose too little for scientific and technical studies, because they are insufficiently encouraged and supported in their choice. Consequently, there is a lack of role models for these future engineers. Female students who do opt to study for an engineering degree drop out more often than their male colleagues.
Beyond the borders
In Belgium, only 25% of engineering graduates are women, and that percentage is even lower in the workplace. Looking at other countries, we see a remarkable difference. A recent UNESCO report shows that Algeria is doing well: 48% of engineers are women. Tunisia (44%) and Morocco (42%) are also doing well. The US has about 20% of female engineers, but in Japan this is barely 14%. China does even worse: there, barely 5% of engineers are women. Female IT engineers, on the other hand, are doing very well in India, where about half of all IT engineers are women."
By encouraging students from secondary school onwards to opt for an engineering education, we could eventually achieve a better balance here too.
Women are still paid less than men in the EU. On average, a woman in the EU earns 15% less than a man. In Belgium, we’re at 6% fortunately. Graduates often earn more or less the same, regardless of their gender. In general, men grow faster because women often take a step back to, for example, take care of the children. "But that should not be translated in their salary. Organisations should aim to be gender-neutral in their salary policy, regardless of the type of job. If they do that and encourage more women to progress to top positions, then the pay gap will eventually narrow," says Julide.
Women at the top
Fortunately, the number of organisations with women in top positions is increasing. And we notice that companies also more easily attract women for open engineering positions when a woman is in charge. In 2020, NASA named its headquarters after Mary Jackson, the first African-American female engineer who worked there from 1958 to 1985. She was one of the talented professionals who contributed to the organisation's success throughout NASA's history. "Ladies like her are a real role model for girls with similar ambitions and initiatives like this give them a real boost to persevere," says Julide.
Girls with technical skills and talent should therefore be encouraged to pursue this from an early age. Not just from home, but also at school. "By encouraging them to choose a STEM career and putting forward a number of female role models, we will eventually see the number of female engineers increase. The snowball effect will work here: when a few motivated individuals take the step to a technical education or career and prove to be successful, others in their environment will naturally follow." As soon as more women in technical jobs advance to top positions, they in turn become role models for the younger generation.
Although they have finished the same studies and hold the same degree as their male fellow students, female engineers still very often face prejudices, especially regarding their technical expertise. More often than men, they have to prove themselves. In addition, there is still too often the opinion that women do not belong in so-called 'dangerous' professions.
But women themselves sometimes have certain prejudices, especially when it comes to choosing a field of study. Many women are put off by technical subjects or professions because they fear it cannot be combined with a family. Which is not the case, of course. Julide: "After all, as an engineer you do not necessarily have to travel around the world to be successful. You can also do that in a 'normal' office job. It all depends on what your own ambitions are and how you want to fill your job. Just like with any other job, in fact. In addition, women are sometimes seen incapable to manage a team with challenging technicians or deal with complex heavy machines, and as a result, even female business leaders might surprisingly prefer male candidates. This absolutely needs to change.“
During the Corona pandemic, the number of engineering recruitments slowed down, mainly because organisations had to pause or postpone planned projects. But engineers remain in high demand and are officially seen as a shortage occupation. IT engineers in particular are scarce. With the ever-increasing digital evolutions, it is therefore essential that there is a constant inflow of students from computer science programmes. Hence, the importance of encouraging both men and women at a young age to make this type of educational choice.
Soft skills and feminine touch
A team of predominantly male engineers benefits from a healthy balance of female and male employees. This diversity on the shop floor promotes the working atmosphere and creates room for innovation. A good gender balance also ensures that different competences are balanced, resulting in better team performance.
In recent months, many professionals have been working from home. This is also the case for the majority of engineers. And that goes well. One in three even says they are more productive at home than at the office, according to a recent survey by Ie-net. Engineers who used to travel a lot, hardly travel now, due to the Corona pandemic. That, of course, calls for great adaptability. Virtually everything happens online now, so strong communication skills are more essential than ever. "And that is precisely what women excel in," says Julide. "Their strong communication skills, empathy and accuracy are a huge asset to the sector. In addition, studies have shown that women possess more important leadership skills, such as the ability to motivate employees, build good relationships and take more initiative.“
Recruiting based on talent and drive
The image of the engineering profession also urgently needs to be revised. How often do we see a vacancy for an engineering position accompanied by a picture of a man wearing a safety helmet? That does not correspond to reality at all, and we all need to step away from it.
Organisations that want to attract engineers should therefore look less at gender and qualifications and more at talent and passion. Women, for example, attach more value to the social relevance of their profession or studies. When men and women are treated equally, there is a nice dynamic among colleagues.
Diversity and inclusion
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace is growing in importance among employees, according to a recent study conducted by StepStone. Employees are more likely to apply to an organisation where women get the same career opportunities as men and where there is a healthy mix of ages, genders and ethnicities.
Organisations that respond to this and work on a solid diversity & inclusion policy therefore attract new talent more easily. But that is not all: productivity in their team will also improve significantly. When this diversity also extends to the management level, we even see a considerable increase in turnover figures.
Julide: "As a recruitment specialist, our goal is to help organisations build more diverse teams, where each individual can fulfil their unique potential. After all, a diverse team with different ideas and perspectives also stimulates an organisation's creativity and innovation, and we are very happy to help organisations achieve this. We therefore present them the best candidates available on the market, regardless of their age, gender or religion. Within the engineering team we do everything we can to help female engineers find their dream job."
Find out more?
Read more about how Robert Walters encourages diversity in the workplace.