29 March 2019

Redressing the gender balance in engineering

We recently interviewed Felicity Furey, a social entrepreneur, engineer and leader in all things diversity.

As her surname could suggest, she’s a force to be reckoned with, hailing from Melbourne, Australia.

Felicity talked to us about how she got to where she is now, the barriers she has faced as a woman in engineering, and what engineering firms can do to attract, retain and engage female engineering talent. The full transcript of our interview with Felicity can be found here, but read on for the highlights.

Felicity and her co-founder, Jillian Kenny, started Power of Engineering, a not-for-profit organisation that has now reached over 9,000 students. Their one-day events in schools and universities across Australia give students an insight into what engineering involves and encourages them to consider it as a career path. The events include an introduction to what engineering is and then a series of workshops, which can be anything from the students building a prosthetic leg out of PVC piping, to them creating their own wind farms, to learning about floating houses. There will then be a keynote speaker talking about their own engineering career experiences, and the day concludes with a site tour of a power plant, construction site or even Qantas’ A380 hangar.

This hands-on experience can open young people’s minds to the opportunities that there are in a career in engineering and expand their horizons when it comes to choosing which career path to pursue. Felicity was inspired by one of her teachers at school and if it weren’t for that, she might not have ended up in the role she now loves, so she wants to provide that inspiration for the next generation.

 

Not just for men

Felicity wants to educate young people, particularly girls, on what engineering can be like in order to tackle misconceptions of it being a career only ‘suitable for men’. She argues that engineering involves a lot of creative thinking, design work and isn’t just about maths and calculations.

Cultural challenges can come into play with diversity and inclusion (D&I) in engineering. Stereotypes and gender roles may discourage women from getting into certain roles, and the pressure to appear ‘manly’ could put men off of roles that could be deemed by some as typically ‘female’ like nursing or working with children. Felicity thinks that these expectations and stereotypes need to be broken down and subverted, because the reality is that anyone can do anything, and someone’s gender shouldn’t be a barrier to their career.

 

The gender hurdle

Another hurdle to gender balance in engineering is a more general issue around education. Felicity’s work going into schools and inspiring girls to think about career options in engineering is making great strides in educating girls about what they are capable of, but we agreed that perhaps the crux of the issue is concerning the education of boys and men. Teaching children from a young age that they are equal and entitled to the same opportunities could be beneficial in stamping out gender stereotypes later on in life.

We need more men to be part of the conversation on gender issues: women are aware of the challenges they face in the day-to-day performance of their jobs, especially in roles that are male-dominated. But perhaps if men were more aware of these everyday struggles women face, they could take the right steps to help make things more fair and equal, allowing women to flourish and giving them opportunities to progress.

 

The importance of role models

Felicity attends a lot of ‘women in engineering’ events, the delegates of which are often largely other women. She suggests that more men should go to them to learn about the issues and talk about them with their female counterparts.

Felicity believes that role models are important in attracting women into engineering jobs. Having women who are relatable and approachable in leadership positions can prove effective in recruiting young women into the industry. But it is also men in leadership who can drive real change; having them speak about gender issues and considering women for promotions and progress can help to redress the balance.

 

Synergy tips for striking the right gender balance

 

  1. Education, education, education – this should start from a young age, teaching boys and girls that they can have access to the same opportunities in the working world, but you’re never too old to learn, and reinforcing gender equality in the workplace through workshops and bringing in inspirational speakers can also help to remind people.
  2. Flexibility is key – gaps in careers between men and women can often come as a result of women having time off to start a family. Offering shared parental leave and flexible working can make it easier for women to return to work.
  3. Lead by example – as mentioned previously, women in leadership roles can act as positive role models for attracting women into a company. But it also falls to men in leadership positions to empower women to go further and provide them with the opportunities for career progression.
  4. Make a public commitment – committing publicly to improving your gender balance holds your company and its leaders to account and shows a genuine desire to make things better.
  5. Do your research – there’s a bunch of great resources available to help companies with their gender balance. Read up, reach out and ask for help when you need it. Our coaching team at Synergy are always on hand to help get you up to scratch when it comes to diversity and inclusion too.

 

If you’d like to chat to us more about how to improve your D&I efforts, get in touch.

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