Next year will witness a remarkable centenary – the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES).
This, no doubt, will come as a surprise to many that there is an organisation boasting such a proud and long history that, from its beginnings to today, champions women engineers and campaigns vigorously to promote and recruit women engineers.
WES formed exactly a day after the Sex Discrimination (Removal) Act 1919, which came on the back of the Suffragette Movement and the work many women had done in factories during World War One.
So, WES will use its centenary year to showcase the skills of its members, highlighting the wide and varied career opportunities for women and driving the much-needed work promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to the younger generations as the UK seeks to overcome the impending skills shortages across a range of industries.
Recruiting more women into engineering – and that can be any stream of the sector from construction to utilities to those in Advanced Manufacturing and Industry 4.0 – is a constant campaign for the likes of WES and other institutions.
There are encouraging signs as a 2017 survey by WISE, an organisation to promote women in STEM, indicated 11 per cent of the engineering workforce is female, which is a rise from nine percent in 2015.
However, that is still a proportionately low number with the UK having the lowest proportion of female engineers in Europe, according to research done by RS Components, as the likes of Latvia has 30 per cent; Romania 25 per cent and Greece 20 per cent.
Therefore, 2019 will be a prominent year to continue to entice women to consider engineering as a rewarding career.
WISE, which also proactively campaigns for women and girls involved in STEM – be that in the classroom, workplace or boardroom, has put together a very convincing business case for more organisations to increase its female employees, which in turn actively draws women into the field.
In its document, Why gender diversity makes business sense, which was published in June 2018, WISE states: “Organisations that lead the way on gender diversity so often also lead on performance and even profitability. Those that ignore diversity risk losing out to the competition. This is not, of course, simple cause and effect. But the correlation between improved diversity and business results is striking.”
It goes on to deliver five factors why companies should diversify and seek more female engineers.
The most pressing reason for employing more women as scientists, engineers and technologists is that – at a time of continuing skills shortages – companies cannot afford to do otherwise. Successful firms also recognise the cost of losing talented and experienced people. They make the best use of all the skills they have, with inclusive policies and practices, transparent opportunities for progression and women getting the support they need to apply on an equal footing with men.
Mixed teams bring wider experience, different ways of thinking and fresh approaches to problem-solving – all necessary to meet the new challenges in many industries.
Improving gender diversity and establishing a more inclusive culture within an organisation mean better employee engagement, with the potential to improve productivity and transform the business.
In many industries, improved diversity can result in better products, better marketing and a better customer experience.
The evidence that recruiting, retaining and promoting more women feeds through into hard results is hard to ignore.