With women making up less than a quarter (24%) of STEM professionals in the UK and a skills shortage continuing to face manufacturing and engineering businesses, the need to increase gender diversity in the industry has never been more urgent, according to female industry leaders in Leeds.
This year’s International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June is a reminder of both the progress that has already been achieved in making careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) more appealing to women, and a spotlight on the work that still needs to be done before the barriers to more women joining the industry are broken down.
While opting for manufacturing and engineering careers and accumulating the relevant skills for those industries is proven to be a route to higher earnings, the WISE organisation, which campaigns to promote women in science, technology and engineering, reports that just 18.5% of engineering and technology undergraduates in the UK are female.
Gender bias in job interviews, a discriminatory workplace culture that leads to more than half of women in STEM professions leaving the industry before they are 35, and a lack of flexible working opportunities have all been identified as triggers that are causing women to opt for alternative careers according to research by PA Consulting.
In the face of an engineering and technology workforce in West Yorkshire where only 21% are women, progressive Leeds manufacturing businesses are gaining momentum in the push to increase diversity by example, and are making important strides in ensuring their own workplaces and working cultures are positive for both male and female employees.
Louise O’Brien CEO of Leeds-based Greyhound Box, which manufactures sustainable packaging for a wide range of industries, said: “Innovative, forward-looking manufacturing and engineering-sector employers, like Greyhound Box, are pulling out all the stops to ensure that gender isn’t an issue in the workplace.
“No one wants to go back to the days when workforces were made up almost exclusively of white men and the fact is that savvy businesses are very well aware that they can’t afford to because they need to fill roles with the best candidates for the job.
“Evolution to ways of working and inclusive cultures where women feel totally comfortable really has become imperative for all firms and the bottom line is that those who don’t follow suit and modernise their work and recruitment practices are unlikely to survive in a climate where skilled employees are in short supply.”
Cath Black, director at Sound Leisure, a Leeds-based business which manufactures classic jukeboxes that are sold worldwide, added: “Manufacturing really is a great industry to work in for women and girls and they are voting with their feet when it comes to choosing employers that are modern and inclusive.
“Word spreads extremely fast about the employers that are going the extra mile to create a female-friendly workplace and career structure and those are the businesses that will succeed in attracting those brilliant, skilled female employees that have so much to offer our industry.”
“Our joint mission is to help manufacturers succeed today and in years to come. By leveraging our extensive industry connections and providing tools for growth, we aim to empower businesses and teams of all sizes with the resources to succeed in an ever-changing industry.”