Addressing gender disparity in engineering

Kerrie Doherty looks at the work being done to progress women’s careers in engineering

It is well known in the engineering industry that there is a significant gender gap and a growing skills gap. These dual problems highlight the need for clearer opportunities for women in engineering and the vital role that employers have in supporting women’s careers. The following outlines some ways engineering employers can successfully carry out this crucial task.

Each year in June, International Women in Engineering Day comes around, and at Baxi that day is set aside to celebrate the progress women have made in the engineering sector. There are discussions on how pathways into engineering can be better established and how girls, especially those around GCSE age, need to be provided with better signposting towards careers in engineering. As the world seizes the opportunities presented by decarbonisation, it is critical that all who have an interest in STEM have their interests nurtured so that more eco-friendly tools, technologies and techniques can be created and put to effective use.

Changing the way energy is used in the UK – especially for heat and hot water – is necessary for the UK to secure a safe and sustainable future. Because of this, at every level, creative engineering experts are in high demand. As the heating industry goes through unprecedented change in the journey towards Net Zero, inventive, solutions-focused people with fresh perspectives will be needed to design and implement the technologies to get us there. Encouraging more girls and women into the industry, with the right employer support, is a good place to begin.

Building a brighter future

As mentioned, introducing girls to engineering at school age can be an effective first step. Not-for-profit organisations such as Primary Engineer run engaging projects that have pupils experience engineering in a way that is fun and tailored to their interests. One engineer lucky enough to have witnessed these sessions first hand is Aisha Siddique.

Aisha is a mechanical engineer degree apprentice at Baxi who participates in the Primary Engineer scheme. She has spoken glowingly of the program and the need to introduce children to the idea of engineering early on, saying, “We need to educate children on what an engineer does, and the wide variety of career paths open to them. Understanding why we’ve chosen this career and bringing engineering into the classroom is so valuable. The projects also really help develop essential skills like visualising, creative problem-solving, testing and evaluation, improving and adapting, along with teamwork and communication – all of which come into play with engineering.”  

The apprentice approach

Having recently finished the first year of her degree at the University of Bolton, Aisha was working with the R&D team in an apprenticeship role. By offering degree apprenticeships, employers provide women with another pathway into engineering. This type of apprenticeship creates opportunities for engineering-newcomers to spend time in various departments and gain invaluable understanding of the industry. They can be fantastic opportunities for women to gain a real-world context that supports their studies.

One of Baxi’s service engineer apprentices, Madison Dowding, began her apprenticeship as soon as she left school. Reflecting on the experience, she said, “The support from the business, colleagues and my mentors has been brilliant and has really pushed me to excel in my role – now I’m ready for the next step in my career.”

Implementing change

Like Madison shows, support for women is vital if there is going to be gender parity in industries that are historically male-dominated. From inspiring women engineers to driving behavioural change, it’s heartening to see businesses actively work to address this imbalance and work to correct it. At Baxi, this means implementing changes to how roles are advertised and ensuring that women arrive to a work environment that recognises and supports their needs. This is important in creating a workplace that is more likely to appeal to women and is part of an overall culture of equality that is needed in traditionally male professions.

Facilitating an organised network to mentor women inside a company can be a powerful way to accelerate progress. Anne Wraith is Baxi’s head of building services and one of the leaders of the Women’s Network for Baxi UK & Ireland, a group she helped set up to champion, coach and mentor women within Baxi. The group aims to identify and address women’s concerns in the workplace, share best practices, and inspire positive change throughout the wider engineering industry.

Discussing the progress women have made, Anne said, “When I began my career in this industry, it was very male dominated and there was far too much mansplaining. People are more educated now and women are both accepted and respected – but it’s been a long time coming.”

It has never been more important to address the skills shortage within engineering and do what’s needed to balance the scales of equality. Engineering has begun its journey towards gender parity and there is a long way to go. Change is happening and, like others in the sector, Baxi is part of a transforming and transformational business that is growing to become what the world and the environment needs.

As part of this, the Construction Inclusion Coalition has recently been launched with Baxi as a founding member alongside other major names in the sector such as Bradfords, Ibstock, Knauf, Travis Perkins plc, Wavin, Wolseley, the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) and the National Merchant Buying Society (NMBS). The goal of the CIC is to raise standards of diversity, equity and inclusion across all aspects of construction, with an immediate focus on gender equality.

Employers should make sincere efforts to ensure that they are creating a work environment that appeals to women, and that opportunities are advertised in places women are likely to see them. If possible, apprenticeship programmes should be implemented. With all of these initiatives, it is vital that women and young people joining the engineering industry are made to feel safe and welcome. By creating clearer routes into the industry, it is possible to have a real impact on closing the skills gap and improving gender parity in an almost overwhelmingly male sector. This will have the knock-on effect of broadening the insight and experience that can be drawn upon for developing new technologies, accelerating the UK along the road toward Net Zero.

For more on Baxi’s work with Primary Engineer, see Baxi.co.uk. Kerrie Doherty is HR Recruitment Manager at Baxi.

Kerrie Doherty

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