Women in Engineering (Consultant Blog)

With no obvious gender bias when it comes to hiring women for engineering jobs, why does a small percentage still only take up engineering as a career? Melanie Mortin, recruitment consultant in Russell Taylor Group’s Technical and Engineering Division, looks into the ways forward to address the issue.

WHERE do you start when putting your thoughts together on the topic of Women in Engineering? As a recruiter, my overall experience here has been a positive one – the vast majority of clients I’ve worked with over the years have been very receptive to the idea of bringing women on to their engineering teams.

There’s already a huge amount of topical information out there encouraging women to pursue careers in engineering and about the range of opportunities once they become established in this sector. So instead I decided I would stick to what I know best – recruiting and my experiences of placing people in jobs in the engineering industry.

Having recruited within the engineering sector for more than five years, I have come across a lot of different situations regarding gender when it comes to recruitment assignments. On the whole, however, I am pleased to report that the gender of an applicant doesn’t enter into it for the majority of the clients I have worked with. Instead, most of them focus on who has the right experience and qualifications and then make decisions based on impartial interviews.

That’s not to say I haven’t experienced sexism throughout my recruitment career. Indeed, I remember one particular assignment for a sales engineer covering the North of England where the hiring manager specifically asked me not to engage with women for this process. Men, I was told, would get on better with their customers, know the products better and be more likely to “get their hands dirty”.

I explained to the hirer, as politely as I could, that I would screen the candidates based on their relevant experience and, if a woman came up who had the right expertise, I would still be putting her across.

Having spoken with some of my female candidates who have enjoyed successful engineering careers, namely in a sales and key account role, they do feel that they must work harder to “prove” themselves within the industry.

One such woman gave an example of how, at interview stage, she was asked how she would manage being a mother, running the family and home while also working full-time in a role that involved travel across the UK. Would this same question be asked of a male applicant, we wondered? Perhaps not.

Alex Davies, area sales manager for Cavotec UK, has worked in the engineering industry for several years throughout her career. She has described her involvement as a “rollercoaster ride” although does admit to this: “I’ve always said it’s so much harder to shut a door in a woman’s face than the ‘suited and booted guy’.”

Describing her experiences, Alex said: “In some companies, I had to ‘prove’ I knew what I was talking about before they would even entertain letting me quote on any of the jobs. Even then, I always felt I had to ‘impress’ more than the man (no offence) standing next to me.”

Some of my clients are now making positive moves to ensure they have a more diversified workforce and have issued initiatives in order to pursue their commitment to this end.

These changes include aiming to provide one woman on every shortlist for each requirement worked. This is a great step forward as the more women who are shortlisted within an active recruitment campaign, the more encouragement it gives to ensure females enter the industry.

I have heard some men voice the opinion that the gender of an applicant shouldn’t matter and that the issue should be about the best person for the job. I wholeheartedly agree with this and while myself, Russell Taylor Group and my clients are committed to opening up avenues that allow a more diverse workforce, it must always be known that ultimately we want to get the most suitable applicant.

Overall, the majority of society – or indeed the part of society that I have dealt with – does not appear to prejudice against women when hiring applicants.

Perhaps the bigger issue is the lack of women entering the profession. It is well known that women make up a small percentage of the engineering workforce so perhaps the issue needs to be addressed at school age in order to drive more women into the industry, ensuring they see it as a realistic and practical career route – and not just a career “for men”!

Also, maybe the question is less so about whether women face a disadvantage within the industry and more so about how to encourage more females to go into engineering and consider it a plausible career choice.

This is something my colleague Ben Evans will be looking into – look out for his article and I will post a link to it here next month.

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