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The Truth Behind Construction and Engineering’s Lack of Women

Portrait of mature architect woman at a construction site. Building, development, teamwork and people concept.Evidence of a gender imbalance in the UK construction industry should come as no surprise to anyone.

Even though the misconception of men dominating the STEM subjects can be disproved through a quick Google search (female students outperform male students), the same articles suggest there are continual obstructions to women participating in subsequent industries.

According to reports, sexism, a lack of role models, and anxiety over career progression prevent women from pursuing a career in construction and engineering. Of course, these are genuine and important factors that must be addressed. However, for Britain in particular, the foundations of the problem lie deep within the sector. After all, other countries like Spain have a relatively equal number of men and women working within this lucrative industry.

Is the UK construction and engineering sector excluding women as a viable workforce, or are people excluding the industry from their prospects as a viable career?

Learning to leave

You may often hear the phrases of depreciation when discussing the lack of females in the construction and engineering sector – “we treat it as a man’s job” or “girls are raised to believe they can’t”.

However, while this may have been the case well over a decade ago, there is no evidence of any gender biases at an education level. Work continues to deconstruct these perceptions, but the suggestion that an entire sector is gender-exclusive is rejected in the classroom.

Evidence suggests that female students recognise engineering as a viable career for them, and see little difference in whether it is suited more for one gender.

Research by EngineeringUK highlighted this perception from 2015 to 2019:

The graphs indicate that girls do not agree with the idea that engineering is just for boys. Across the two charts, data shows an increasing awareness of gender equality. 94% of girls at school leaving age (16–19) in 2019 said they agreed that engineering is suitable for boys and girls. 81% of boys at school leaving age in 2019 agreed too.

The evidence is conclusive, recording that there is no belief system in girls that engineering and construction is not a viable career option. Certainly, the abilities of girls in the educational setting do not pose any barriers to the sector. Therefore, the perception of construction as an appealing career may be the most significant factor in preventing people from entering the industry.

Groups of 11-14-year-old girls and 16-19-year-old girls show a declining aspiration for engineering as a potential career. Clearly, even more must be done to prove that this is a desirable career for aspirational women. The lack of female role models in the construction sector may also contribute to these disappointing results.

However, when compared with boys at similar ages, it’s important to note that they too showed a similar declining interest in the last four years.

Gender stereotypes can certainly contribute to the construction industry as a viable career option, but clearly, girls believe that pursuing engineering as a career is something that they are capable of doing if they desired. EngineeringUK concluded that: “Barriers to pursuing STEM education and engineering careers — those relating to a lack of knowledge of engineering, for example — may be common to both genders and point to the importance of stepping up engagement with all young people.”

Construction and engineering in the UK, it appears, is failing to show that it is a desirable career option to either gender. The consequence of this is more than having a distinct lack of female engineers, the problems within the sector are only emphasised by the continued gender stereotypes of masculine roles.

If not just for women, how is the construction and engineering sector failing to attract everyone?

Why is construction unappealing?

Data suggests that, when compared to Europe, the UK ranks lowest on the representation of women in the construction and engineering sector.

The perception of a prestigious career is the reason, according to civil engineer Jessica Green. She believes that similar occupations, such as architecture, are appreciated more than her misunderstood career. She admits that she “turned [her] nose up at engineering”, after believing the job would create a lifetime of standing “dressed in overalls” and “working in tunnels”.

Green concludes that this is the image that was presented to her in the UK. Even though the career requires years of academia and a large amount of training, she feels that she is denied a prestige that other careers are awarded. People do not want to consider a career without a sense of achievement.

This is the opposite of Spain, where the title of engineer is regarded with the same occupational prestige as that of a doctor or lawyer. It requires six years of work to achieve this title. For this reason, Green believes Spain achieves its impressive equality in her field of work.

Of course, the term “engineer” is broader in the UK. It can represent many people throughout the construction sector from many different levels. This creates an ambiguity into what the role actual is, and what a person may be qualified to do. This unknown contributes to the disappointing representation of talented construction engineers compared to other careers held in high regard, such as doctors or lawyers. The apprehension often creates the perception of overalls and yellow hard hats, though the construction sector relies on many engineers working in office environments or in a digital field.

Building the best solution

The construction and engineering sector must innovate its approach to recruiting in the UK. This appeal must be refreshed for men and women. The evidence shows that female students are approaching the sector with an open mind and with confidence. But they are being let down by an industry that asks people to prove themselves worthy of a promising career, when it is the construction sector that needs to work to prove itself to their prospective employees.

Diane Boon, Director of Commercial Operations at structural steelwork company Cleveland Bridge, states: “To be a woman in engineering — as with everything in life — you need to work hard. But so do the men. Being a woman has neither helped nor hindered my career in this incredible field. What engineering needs to do smarter is raise its profile, make itself more appealing to future generations — it needs to reposition itself.”

The future of UK construction and engineering lies in the hands of the sector’s female leaders. By recognising engineers in this country with the same prestige that other European countries do, we can achieve an appealing and competitive workforce and achieve better gender representation within the industry.


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Tackling gender imbalance in the tech industry | Dominic Harvey

gender equality, gender balance

Article provided by Dominic Harvey, Director at CWJobs

Despite change being championed in the tech industry, the persisting gender imbalance has highlighted there’s still a huge pool of female talent that is yet to be tapped into.

According to WISE, the campaign for gender balance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, only 22 per cent of employees working in core STEM occupations are currently women. Therefore, maintaining steady growth and continued investment into the female tech workforce across the country needs to be a major focus, in order to help plug the current skills shortage.

Bringing female talent to the fore

It is great to see the numbers of girls studying STEM subjects at GCSE-level increase by 14 per cent this year. However, whilst we wait until this generation enters the workplace, there are various methods to ensure we are unlocking the widest pool of candidates.

Our Women in Tech report found 87 per cent agree there is an industry gender imbalance in favour of men, with women still being put off pursuing a career in tech because of lack of opportunities (40 per cent). Organisations must take action to highlight the importance of promoting, as well as retraining women to bring their skills to the forefront of modern businesses.

A diverse recruitment process

Recognising a female candidate’s potential is the key to diversifying the recruitment processes within the sector and attracting future talent.

Making roles more inclusive will open the recruitment process and foster diverse workplaces, ensuring an alternative way of thinking for long-term viable strategies and close the current gender imbalance. It is important for recruitment teams to get female workers involved in the hiring process, in order to appeal to more women within job adverts.

This could be inviting them into interviews and reviewing or analysing job specifications and descriptions, to evaluate what is potentially putting female candidates off applying for these positions.

Our sister brand Totaljobs has produced a Gender Bias Decoder, an incredibly useful, free tool for companies to use to uncover and identify hidden gender biased words in emails, job descriptions, or any other text, which affects how candidates and people respond.

Mentoring and support schemes

It is extremely important to celebrate the achievements of female figures in the industry, in order to encourage and retain talent. Earlier this year, our research found that 64% of women in tech claim to have been motivated by an inspirational figure to pursue their career. However, despite a role model being crucial to attracting female talent, worryingly the majority of STEM workers in the UK is at a loss when it comes to naming female role models in their industry.

At CWJobs, we have created a Women in Tech network, to improve our own gender balance. This includes holding focus groups with women in tech roles across the company to understand their biggest pain points and barriers to find out how to better support them.  We have also launched a mentoring scheme, to give women within our organisation the opportunity to be coached by senior female co-workers.

Positively promoting women who have worked their way up the ladder and carved successful careers within the industry is just the start of normalising the value of women and the significant impact they have within tech departments and wider businesses throughout the UK.


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Addressing the imbalance, how can we get more female-led startups funded?

female leader, women leading the way

While the UK is leading the way in the startup and tech world, the under-representation of women is even more marked in this sector of the economy than others.

Research from the British Business Bank shows that all female founding startup teams get just 1p for every £1 of investment.

We would all benefit from having more female entrepreneurs and business founders. It’s not just about doing the right thing morally, important as it is. Recent research from the Boston Consulting Group found that diverse teams produce 19% more revenue. Diageo has been ranked 1st in the UK in Equileap’s Gender Equality Ranking. It has also been rated one of the most dynamic companies in polls by competitors, while seeing impressive profitability. So we can all agree having more women making decisions makes great commercial sense.

Therefore it is vital to get seed funding to women in the most dynamic part of the economy - the startup sector. In supporting more female-led businesses we can create more role models and provide a pathway for others to follow. Here are four steps that need to be taken to start to change the picture.

  1. Develop networking: The oldest cliche in business is it’s not about what you know, it's about who you know. It’s a truism that has actively disadvantaged women, with men having more networks to tap into than women. It starts with education, boys’ schools have a lot more old networks than girls’ schools, and this is reinforced throughout our lives. Women need to build their own networks to redress the balance. The great news is that there are more organisations than ever dedicated to addressing this with opportunities to meet like-minded and connected people who can take your business idea to the next level. It is something my organisation SeedTribe is actively looking to do in showcasing a curated list of the best events for people involved in working in, or wanting to support, impactful start-ups.
  2. Attract more female investors: One of the biggest challenges for women looking for funding is the lack of women as investors. Angel investment is the lifeblood of early stage start-ups and a greater flow of capital into female start-ups at this stage would have a game-changing impact. However the investor community on Angel Investment Network in the UK has less than 10% women and is something we are determined to change. Although men can back female businesses, the evidence shows women investors will have an added insight and empathy for businesses led by women. If we look at products designed around financial inclusion, they will bring a fresh perspective on how women may think about investment compared to men, and so enable access to the largest under-served market in the world: women. This includes products like Tumelo, SmartPurse or Bippit. It’s not just financial investment. Finding the right female angel who has led a business themselves, who can help support, advise and back your business can be invaluable.
  3. Be more confident in pitching There are a number of tweaks women can make to their pitch, in order to increase their chances of investment. Sometimes it's just a question of being bold and putting ourselves in the shoes of the listener. Learning to switch perspective to put the most pertinent argument forward is one of the simple steps we can do to increase our chances of investment if fundraising for a start-up. My experience of launching my old start-up GrubClub was critical in helping me understand how important it is to think of different angles, adapting my pitch according to the investor I was speaking to, so I would research each investor carefully and highlight a different reason for them to invest, based on their background and interests - while always making sure I was staying true to the soul and values of GrubClub. It's important to be flexible and open to other approaches, but never to the detriment of what is fundamental to your company.
  4. Give other women a hand up I’m a big believer in paying it forward. Women can challenge an entrenched system by ensuring they offer a hand up to other women who are looking to develop their own business. Having launched and sold my own business, I dedicate my time to supporting impactful entrepreneurs to grow in more holistic, sustainable ways. This involves not just fundraising but also opportunities to connect with professionals who can collaborate with them to help them grow along the way. The individual power we all have is immense and far greater than we perhaps realise. Let’s use it meaningfully.

Olivia SibonyAbout the author

Liv is an award-winning entrepreneur (Awarded Top 10 UK Women Entrepreneurs 2019 -- Wise100 Top Women in Social Business) and trailblazing ethical investment champion who left a career at Goldman Sachs to launch her foodtech startup, GrubClub, which she sold to Eatwith in 2017. She joined Angel Investment Network (having raised money for Grub Club through them) to launch and grow SeedTribe, a spinoff platform focused specifically on connecting “impactful” businesses with investors.

Most recently she has launched a 'Female Founders' community on the platform to champion female start ups and encourage female investors. This was in response to discovering just 10% of investors on the AIN platform are women, something she is determined to change.She is also a Board member of UCL's Fast Forward 2030, which aims to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to launch businesses that address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


Exploring the Gender Imbalance | Spring Technology

Women in Technology

Whilst the country’s 1.2 million IT & Telecoms (IT&T) professionals make up just 4.2% of the UK’s total workforce, they are both the power behind the sizeable information economy and the backbone to every other sector. Could industry be doing more to increase its power? Is the workforce a fair representation of a modern day society?

With news emerging from Silicon Valley that women typically comprise less than 30% of its workforce, Spring Technology was keen to look at female participation in the UK IT & Telecoms occupations. Startlingly, our research found that, in 2014, women accounted for just 16.4% of the country’s IT & Telecoms professionals.*

To understand why so few women are entering and staying in the profession, our research looked into:
  • Education: What’s being done to improve technical and digital skills and increase interest levels in working in the profession
  • Early careers within IT & Telecoms, progression opportunities, and the availability of opportunities at a senior level

From this research - which comprised qualitative interviews, a survey across our comprehensive network, and extensive data analysis - we unearthed issues that not only impact women, but the workforce as a whole.

I hope that the findings from our research will prove useful in helping to shape the future of IT & Telecoms recruitment, and to improve the prospects of the profession at large.

Download full report here


Female Careers in Science

Five top-notch projects promoting female careers and leadership in science

 

Organisations ranging from large corporations to small scale businesses are increasingly recognising the gender imbalance that is still prevalent within the science industries. From putting in the hours in the classroom to establishing inspiring expeditions across the globe, women are fighting to have their voices heard.
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Image via Shutterstock

An increasing number of projects aim to boost the confidence of women in the workplace, empowering women to take up previously male-dominated careers and claim the leadership roles they deserve.

Here are five of the projects helping and promoting female careers and leadership in scientific fields:

Homeward Bound

The Homeward Bound initiative combines adventure and research in a brand new, unique initiative. The project focus around a voyage which takes 100 female scientists to Antarctica on a training expedition with three main strands. These are leadership, strategy and research, with training taking part on-board and off-board for each.

The first trip took place in December 2016, and with trips running for the next ten years the project aims to connect over 1000 female scientists in a strong web of knowledge and support.

Led by leadership activist Fabian Dattner (of Dattner Grant) and ecological modeler Jess Melbourne Thomas, Homeward Bound aims to reach beyond its immediate participants to inspire young women throughout the scientific fields. It will do this through a professionally filmed element of the expedition, alongside the media coverage and outreach work generated by participants.

WISE Campaign

WISE bills itself as a ‘classroom to boardroom campaign’ working to increase the number of girls and women is science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM subjects). Their knowledge sharing events advise on topics ranging from flexible working to retaining and developing female talent. The WISE consultancy works to combat unconscious bias, developing the attitudes of employers through enlarging their knowledge and improving understanding.

The ‘People Like Me’ resources provide girls with examples of happy, successful women working within the science industries, and are offered to both individuals and companies. These resources promote their message alongside day-long courses that are run nationwide.

Looking beyond school to the next stage of a woman’s career, WISE’s four-day career development programme works on the important task of developing the confidence of women already in the industry. This course has seen 97 per cent of participants gain a more proactive approach to their career progression, with 88 per cent gaining higher levels of confidence and self-belief.

Graduate Women in Science (GWIS)

GWIS was started in 1921 as a community of female scientists in America, and still holds steadfast to its three guiding principles: connect, lead and empower. GWIS sends monthly e-newsletters and publications to keep its followers up to date with the latest news and networking events.

Members benefit from face-to-face or online networking services, whilst an annual conference features career workshops and leadership training. Particular importance is placed on providing mentoring and financial aid.

Million Women Mentors

MWM works to advance women and girls in STEM careers through mentoring. The impressive 1,315,00 pledges and 640,000 completed mentorings that the initiative already has to its name attests to its success so far.

With sponsors such as BP, Pepsico and Walmart, the project is aiming for – and achieving – impressive goals. These goals span every stage of a girl’s education, from encouraging study of STEM subjects at school and university through to working towards higher retention rates of women in STEM careers.

At the stage where a woman has a STEM job MWM’s workforce mentoring programmes become particularly important, ensuring that women aren’t intimidated and driven out of these male-dominated industries.

L’Oréal–UNESCO ‘For Women in Science’

The L’Oréal–UNESCO ‘For Women in Science’ partnership was founded in 1998, recognising women making a difference in scientific fields and promoting and supporting their work. The project acknowledges that the UK risks losing 33,000 female scientists every year, with 15 per cent of female science students having felt lonely and isolated and 11 per cent worrying about future earning power.

International Rising Talent awards are particularly aimed at supporting younger women who have already distinguished themselves with outstanding research. A large amount of the project’s focus, however, goes towards the 250 fellowships offered to talented female scientists across 112 countries.

On top of this, five international awards laureates are awarded annually, recognising female contribution to the advancement of science. These alternate each year between life and physical sciences, 2017 being the year of the physical sciences.

Altogether the awards and fellowships create a forward-thinking image of motivation and optimism across the field of women in science.

About the author:

Alexandra Jane writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency. Check out their website to see which internships and graduate jobs are currently available. Or, if you’re looking to hire an intern, have a look at their innovative Video CVs.