Two weeks after the General Election, many of us still have voting on our minds. But how many women these days take for granted the fact they actually can vote?

Thanks to Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragettes in the early 20th century, women and men now have equal rights when it comes to voting. And women’s representation in Parliament is also improving. A record-breaking number of female MPs were elected on 8th June, meaning women now hold 208 of the 650 seats at Westminster. But at just 32% of the seats, the number is still too low.

Unfortunately, it’s not just politics where women are under-represented. In the engineering industry the numbers are even lower. Just 9% of UK engineers are female, and I’m sure you’ll agree that’s not enough. So, as today is International Women in Engineering Day, I’d like to take a look at how we, and more importantly, the new Government, can encourage more women into this fantastic industry.

A lack of diversity

I’ve experienced a lack of diversity throughout my career, especially at leadership level. Working with the transport and infrastructure sectors for almost 10 years has inspired me to campaign for a more gender balanced workforce. I’m also passionate about encouraging young women to consider transport and engineering careers. This eventually led to me setting up my own business, where I now help other organisations to do the same.

International Women in Engineering Day is a wonderful way to celebrate the achievements of our outstanding women engineers.The aim is to motivate more women to consider engineering careers. This year, the focus is on increasing the campaign's reach to a wider audience with a theme of 'Men as Allies'. We need more men to sponsor, mentor and champion women in engineering, and commit to driving the cultural change needed to attract more women into the industry. This will help us not only increase workforce diversity, but also address the engineering skills shortage in the UK; and ensure we have enough talented people to deliver future projects.

How can the Government help?

First, we need to challenge gender stereotypes about careers in engineering. We must send out positive messages to young people, parents, teachers and beyond that these jobs are for girls, not just for boys. This needs all government departments to work together to help get the message out and should be at the heart of skills policy and the industrial strategy. 

Another area the Government can help is by committing to ensure all primary school children receive advice on careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) as a core part of the curriculum. Doing this will help tackle gender stereotypes at a young age and encourage young people’s interest in engineering and other STEM roles.

It’s also important to close the gender pay gap and end gender discrimination. Policies that promote gender equality and support parents, such as improving the take-up of shared parental leave, will help the engineering industry attract and keep talented people.

What can we do to help ?

As an employer within the industry, you can also help. If you’d like to achieve a more diverse workforce but don’t know where to start, then you may wish to consider my top five tips to help employers improve workforce diversity and attract and retain women at all levels:

  1. Profile women doing all jobs at all levels in the company. This will provide young people with visible role models and inspire them to consider careers in the sector.
  2. Set up peer mentoring and support schemes for parents. Produce guides to help staff manage pregnancy, maternity, paternity and shared parental leave. This will help people deal with the massive change in their lives when they become parents. It will help women return to work after maternity leave. 
  3. Actively encourage flexible and agile working for all staff. This should be led from the top. Senior leaders, especially male senior leaders, should be seen to work flexibly.
  4. Be aware of unconscious bias and the impact it can have. An example would be assuming a woman who has just returned from maternity leave won’t have the time to take on a challenging new project or wish to step-up to cover a more senior role.
  5. Establish diverse interview panels. Recruitment panels that lack diversity are more likely to make recruitment decisions that favour ‘people like them’. This disadvantages under-represented groups.

We still have a long way to go before women and men are equally represented within the engineering workforce. But starting with even just a couple of the points above, means we’re moving in the right direction towards women being inspired to work in our industry.