The male-centric stereotypes of the engineering profession are starting to change as top engineering firms start to implement reforms to attract the best minds, both male and female.
Leadership and accountability are key to picking up the pace in achieving workplace equality for Australian men and women, according to Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) director Libby Lyons.
Those qualities are evident in some of the leading engineering employers who last week received the WGEA’s stamp of approval as Employers of Choice for Gender Equality.
Some 2018 recipients, such as GHD and AECOM, have been recognised by the WGEA for several years running. Those listed for the first time include construction firm Mirvac and automotive giant GM Holden. Mirvac has the added honour of being the only company to be recognised in the construction category.
“It is encouraging to see some new citation holders this year in fields as diverse as engineering, manufacturing, insurance, IT and entertainment,” Lyons said.
Overcoming the challenges
Lyons stated that each industry and each business has its own gender equality challenges.
“We are confident that all our citation holders are driving change in their own organisations, as well as playing a leadership role to promote gender equality across their industries and in the wider community,” she said.
Challenges for the engineering industry include a pay gap that exceeds the national average in two major areas of employment (professional, scientific and technical services; and construction), and a lack of visible female leaders to act as role models.
Retention of qualified female engineers is also a problem – more than half the women who graduate leave the profession.
The initiatives implemented by citation holders included initiatives to address these problems, including support for female leaders, addressing pay gaps between men and women, flexible work arrangements and paid parental leave.
GHD general manager Phil Duthie said flexibility is an important ingredient of a diverse and inclusive workplace.
“We’re seeing more and more of our senior people leading by example by working flexibly,” he said.
“We’re also thrilled by our increasing female representation in leadership positions. Women make up 36 per cent of our Australian leadership team and 44 per cent of the GHD board.”
According to GM Holden MD Mark Bernhardt, companies need to work aggressively to attract the best minds, both male and female. Bernhardt announced last year that GM Holden is working to achieve equal representation of women by 2022.
With recent figures released by the World Economic Forum suggesting that gender equality in the workforce could be more than 200 years away, it is heartening to see engineering employers taking steps to speed things up.