Diversity: five tips to improve the balance

Paul Lambert Hay Group

Paul Lambert from management consultant Hay Group offers his advice for increasing diversity in the engineering and infrastructure workforce.

Last month, research from the Institution of Engineering and Technology revealed that only 6% of the engineering workforce is female. This alone presents a huge diversity issue but, when considered within the context of an increasingly serious engineering skills shortage, the picture becomes even bleaker.

This year, 59% of companies expressed concern that a lack of engineering skills would threaten their business in the UK. With talent key to the industry’s continued success, organisations need to take a long, hard look at how they are attracting employees and maintaining talent pipelines. To draw from the widest possible talent pool, they need to appeal to diverse workforce demographics - including women - or risk jeopardising their own businesses, and wider economic growth.

The perception of engineering as a heavily male-dominated industry is part of the challenge. Government and industry have tried a number of initiatives to change this but the sheer number of men acting in senior roles has made it difficult. This perception is just as applicable to schools, where we’re still seeing fewer females undertaking the STEM subjects crucial for pursuing a career within this industry. The proportion of girls taking maths A-level, for example, was in fact lower this year than in 2013.

Organisations looking to reverse this trend should consider the following:

·       Be flexible: Flexible working is not the complete solution but it can certainly help encourage more women, and additional men, into the modern workplace.

·       Provide role models: Over past years we’ve seen some great female engineering role models reaching prominence in the UK. However, there’s still a lack of visible females at senior level, something which organisations like the Women’s Engineering Society are helping to address.

·       Collaboration remains key: A concerted effort must be made across the board - from schools, to universities, to apprenticeship schemes - to overcome industry-wide diversity perception problems and encourage more women into the engineering industry. 

·       Link into industry and government initiatives: Government and industry bodies, such as EngineeringUK, have also launched a number of initiatives that companies can align with. The Government’s “Your Life” campaign for instance has support from a number of leading employers.

·       Take the longer term viewT: Companies need to think about strategic workforce planning for the future, identifying the critical roles that will be needed.  They can then make sure they   draw on the broadest pool of candidates to fill these and deliver business and commercial strategies.

There is no quick-fix solution to the diversity issue in engineering but now is the time to kick-start reform. While the need to draw from a broader talent pool presents challenges for organisations, it also offers huge opportunity.  Engineering organisations are in need of more than just core technical skills; they’re increasingly after individuals with commercial understanding, project management experience and leadership capabilities. With many female engineers bringing this broad skillset, their recruitment does more than just make up numbers – it’s a crucial component for future success.


Paul Lambert is associate director, Hay group.