Head of Diversity at the Royal Academy of Engineering
Businesses that are openly inclusive towards other underrepresented groups can attract and retain more of the potential female and male talent pool.
I am proud to be a female engineer. A career in engineering offers great opportunities for women and men; with sustained demand for skills, there have been strenuous efforts by many organisations over recent years to ensure that more women receive information, encouragement and support to fulfil their potential by accessing these opportunities. Increasingly the businesses we work with recognise the benefits of better gender balance in their workforce and many companies are devoting significant effort to attract, retain and progress greater numbers of women.
It is vital that the focus on gender diversity also embraces the many intersecting characteristics within gender.
As a white, middle-class, public school and Russell Group-educated female engineer, I recognise that I perhaps represent a female version of the male majority that persists within engineering. There is no such thing as a ‘standard’ woman, they are not a homogenous group, and cumulative challenges presented by ethnicity, socio-economic background, sexual orientation or disability when compounded with gender can lead to multiple barriers being faced by individuals. Being the underrepresented group with the largest potential target pool, women are often the natural first point of focus for engineering businesses wishing to improve the demographic diversity of their staff. But the engineering workforce in general is ageing and the UK is becoming more ethnically diverse. This cannot be ignored.
We see growing appetite from engineering businesses to try new approaches to graduate recruitment, for example, in order to attract not only more female applicants but applicants from a much wider spectrum of ethnicity, socio-economic background and university of study. We are encouraging this desire through initiatives such as our Engineering Engagement Programme that works with 13 employers, in conjunction with SEO London. The programme identifies and supports a diverse cohort of university students to better understand and succeed in engineering recruitment processes as well as working with the employers involved to explore whether the inclusiveness of their recruitment processes can be improved.
Where businesses are bold, willing to try a different approach and are openly inclusive towards other underrepresented groups in their actions on gender, rather than tackling one characteristic at a time, they can attract and retain more of the potential female (and male) talent pool. The time to look wider is now.