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What can the engineering and construction industry learn from young women?



The engineering and construction industry is one of the most exciting and dynamic areas in which to work. But for young women, it can be perceived as a daunting and difficult industry to enter.

The reality is that it is an industry which changes continuously and rapidly, with jobs appearing every day that no one could have dreamt of even being there a few years ago. As Dame Professor Ann Dowling, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering said, “Many of the jobs we will need in 20 years’ time have not been invented yet, just as many of the jobs advertised today did not exist 20 years ago”.

The jobs are changing and the industry needs to change to keep up. Young people, and more specifically young women, are essential to championing this change successfully. Diversity matters, as the Women’s Engineering Society’s March 2016 statistics document revealed. Although only 9% of the engineering workforce is female, the lowest figure of any European country, the WES statistic document showed that companies are 15% more likely to perform better if they are gender diverse.

The problem with being a pioneering and progressive industry is that if you’re not listening to the voices of the newest members of that industry, you’re not going to get very far in your progression. It’s very easy to talk about the exciting and dynamic industry that you work in, but it’s much harder to prove it. While you may be able to build and create brilliantly innovative devices and machines, there’s only so far your company can go if you are not willing to diversify your workforce.

The engineering and construction industry, as a whole, has long been seen as a male-dominated empire. A bastion of male energy and an industry that a little girl, and later a young woman, may not have ever considered joining. Engineering and construction jobs have always been for boys, not for girls.

The lack of women in the industry is a cultural and sociological issue within the UK. You only have to look at the statistics from India where more than 30% of engineering students are women to understand that. In an article for the BBC Professor Dowling reminds us of a fundamental fact: “As I was, young children are natural engineers, constantly seeking to understand the properties of materials as they engage with the world around them”. This level of curiosity has nothing to do with the child’s gender.

What many companies are starting to realise is that in today’s world, diversity is what will set you apart, and ultimately pit you above others in the sector. Diversity is what needs to be championed if a company and the industry it is part of, wishes to progress and grow. This diversity needs to include women, and young women at that.

It is the younger generations who can bring greater innovation into the industry. These younger, generally more tech-savvy and often more open-minded individuals, can bring a difference in attitude into a business that may not have been there before. The men, and some women, who already work in the business will of course have the benefit of years of specific experience. But there is potential that they might have reached a point of stagnation, a moment when what is needed is a bit of a shake-up. The introduction of a fresh-faced millennial woman can be that shake-up.

One example of millennial innovation working within a more traditional company is seen in the Crossrail development in London, which started construction in 2009. In its choice of engineers it is at the forefront of industry changes: one in three of the construction company Bechtel’s engineers working on the London Crossrail project are women. In fact, some 16% of Bechtel’s engineers are women, which is double the UK’s sector average.

Diversity makes companies better, smarter, more interesting and more challenging. Hiring more young people, and young women in particular, introduces a greater variety of people to the workplace. Young people see the world through different eyes, through a different filter than those who have been in the business for decades. They may lack the levels of experience, but they make up for it in the other integral aspects they can bring to the company and to the industry as a whole.  

So let’s turn the question on its head. Instead of asking what the industry can do for young women and their contemporaries, let’s find out what we as an industry can learn from the young women we employ. Let’s give them the chances they need, ask the questions that challenge and engage them and recognise that change can only be a good thing in an industry as innovative as engineering and construction.

At Anderselite, we have a range of engineering and construction roles and are always looking for new talent to fill our vacancies. Take a look at our latest jobs here

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