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15 February 2016 | By Naomi Climer Community

A fair and even playing field

We need new guidance to help companies attract and retain more women into science and engineering roles

The proportion of female engineers in the UK workforce remains under 10 per cent, according to our skills survey. This is worryingly low – and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) believes there must be as much emphasis on promotion, retention and support for women entering the sector as there is on attracting more in.

Analysis by the Royal Academy of Engineering suggests we will need more than a million new engineers and technicians by 2020 to fulfil demand. We have to attract new engineers from every possible talent pool and support them in their careers to have any chance of meeting this.

Our research has shown that 57 per cent of businesses in the UK do not have gender diversity initiatives in place and 41 per cent have acknowledged that they could do more to recruit staff from diverse backgrounds.

This is why we have teamed up with Prospect, the union for professionals, to release Progressing Women in STEM Roles. It offers employers guidance and best practice examples of how they can not only take steps to attract more female candidates, but also ensure that women in their organisation have a fair and even playing field to develop and to progress their careers.

It covers everything from addressing workplace culture, establishing measurements and targets and how to best advertise roles to female candidates, to enabling flexible working to ensure all employees feel valued.

There are plenty examples companies can learn from. Network Rail has an “Everyone” strategy, which they have worked on with the Trade Union Equality Group, focused on access and inclusion, behaviours and culture and collaboration – both within the organisation and with schools and colleges.

BT has run female-friendly recruitment campaigns in women’s magazines, giving details of childcare policies. And PwC has a three-point strategic approach to developing and advancing women, which includes a bias awareness training programme and data-driven insight into blockages and trends in the way women are promoted.

We know that many employers acknowledge that the lack of women in their organisations is a real problem, and so we hope this guidance will prompt them to take practical action to address this – both in terms of how they recruit more female engineers and how they nurture the talent of those they already employ.

64 per cent of UK companies claim that a shortage of engineers in the UK is a threat to their business. Technology is ever-evolving, sustainable smart-living is more necessary than ever, and demand continues to increase for everything from housing to healthcare and transport to space travel. Without engineers, none of this will be possible. Engineers know how things work, they problem solve, they provide clever, creative solutions to improve life for others – and we desperately need to inspire more people to join them.

At the IET we are passionate about championing the career progression of women in STEM and our hope is that this new guidance will help support employers to develop workplaces where women thrive. 

To view the guidance visit: www.theiet.org/women-in-stem