Recruiters must do more to realign the gender balance
23 June 2014 sees the launch of National Women in Engineering Day; the first of its kind, the event aims to celebrate the work of women in engineering, and showcase the great expanse of engineering careers that are available to girls.
Estimates from the Engineering Council predict that by 2020, the UK will need an additional 1.8 million people with engineering skills, yet we are currently only producing a fraction of that number in our universities and through apprenticeship schemes.
Clearly more has to be done to attract women into engineering. One of our goals at Roevin is to help promote strong values in engineering recruitment. We recognise that there is gender bias in the engineering sector and it is our responsibility as a specialist in engineering recruitment to help realign the gender balance.
We operate in a fast-paced industry, and the impact of technology has changed the daily life of a recruiter. Technology has crept in at every level, making recruitment more process-driven to facilitate increased efficiency. While we welcome this development, we can’t help but notice the lack of progress with regards to the advancement of women’s opportunities within the industry. Counter intuitively, it can be said that the increased use of technology has also made our industry more prone to gender bias.
Gender bias, technology, and new challenges
With our modern reliance on technology, the majority of recruitment agencies (and through them, organisations) advertise their vacancies through job boards and portals. However, it seems that women don’t respond to job ads as readily as men. But that doesn’t mean they’re not looking: when you move away from the reactive use of job boards and proactively network amongst engineers in specific areas, the number of relevant women for a role is much closer to the percentage of women in the industry. This suggests that women are looking for career opportunities to the same extent as men — they just don’t respond to ads in the same numbers.
So why is this?
Our findings suggest that job descriptions and advertisements are written with the incumbent in mind, and use language that doesn’t appeal to women. Many ads aimed at engineers are written (albeit unconsciously) with men in mind. The language used might be overly masculine and therefore suggestive of an environment more suited to men; so even if a female engineer has the necessary skill set to apply, she might feel that the company would not be the right environment for her.
Women tend to only apply for a role when they feel they have ALL the necessary skills specified in the job advertisement, further decreasing the chances of female responses.
There is a large body of research available that suggests that we’re all susceptible to ‘unconscious bias’; something that recruiters must fight every day. Consultants have to be aware that when talking to engineers or assessing profiles and CVs, they may be susceptible to making judgements about people that are not accurate — and in engineering this often means gender bias.
It is the responsibility of recruiters to make sure that engineering opportunities are made more accessible by and attractive to women — ensuring that attraction methods and channels, as well as the language used, are inclusive and representative of the wider talent pool. While this may not be the quickest way to recruit, it’s the best way to protect against skills deficits to ensure the longevity of the engineering industry.
On 23 June, National Women in Engineering Day will focus the attention of the industry on opportunities for women in engineering, at a time when it has never been more important to address the skills shortage. It‘s hoped that by encouraging girls into engineering careers, we will not only be increasing diversity and inclusion – a business imperative – but also future proofing for the substantial job opportunities that have been predicted in the engineering sector.
Thanks also to contribution and insights from Sagent Solutions