Sunday, 21 September 2014

John+McKenna+PNG Comment

For oil's sake?

John McKenna, Editor

Does gender matter?

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Forty-nine per cent of industry representatives claim skills shortages are their main barrier to growth

Does it really matter what proportion of the engineering profession is male and what proportion is female?

The short answer is “no”.

At the end of the day the only distinction that ought to be made is between good engineers and bad engineers – sex, age, race or any other demographic criterion you care to think of ought not to come in to it.

If that’s the case, then what are we to make of the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) survey that found that only 6% of the engineering workforce is female (granted, those process sectors included in the survey had slightly higher averages, with energy and pharmaceuticals both scoring 8%)?

Engineering’s average age is approaching something similar to that of this September’s Tory Party conference

For those progressives among us it may be sad that there are still so few women in the profession, but again, from a purely utilitarian point of view, does it matter?

In an ideal world the answer again would be a resounding “no”, but unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a country where skills shortages in the engineering professions has become so deeply rooted that it is now as much a part of the landscape as the iconic feats of engineering dotted up and down this island.

Bearing that in mind, institutions like the IET’s calls for diversity are far less about being politically correct and far more about getting as many young people as possible interested in taking up the profession; the real demographic challenge isn’t gender, but the age of the workforce, with engineering’s average age approaching something similar to that of this September’s Tory Party conference.

The fact that age is the greatest problem is highlighted by various survey findings showing that among recent engineering graduates there is a far less lopsided split between the sexes.

However, this doesn’t mean we should allow employers totally off the hook when it comes to gender discrimination: IET chief executive Nigel Fine called for employers to focus not only on the recruitment but also the retention of women “for example by promoting flexible and part time working, together with planned routes of progression that can accommodate career breaks”.

This suggests that through restrictive working practices there is potential for the low proportion of women in the profession to remain low, despite the ever-increasing numbers of female graduates.

Unless companies do more to promote flexible working, both diversity and skills shortages will remain as blemishes on this profession’s fine record.

Readers' comments (6)

  • Thank You, glad someone agrees with me on this non-issue. In my opinion, if people are focussing on getting women into engineering they are neglecting young men and vice versa

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  • Engineers are people with enquiring minds. If you want the best keep searching. There are many men who are absolutely clueless when it comes to the mechanical mind, and I am certain there are women who have the ability, but the idea that you can use simple percentages as who should be doing what... this is crass social engineering. There are no "glass ceilings", just people with or without the ability.
    What should be born in mind is the amount of students who are completing engineering course in the Asian countries, male and female.

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  • Why would anybody do a difficult degree when they could do something simple like law or media studies and earn considerably more, not to mention they are considered more glamorous. Engineers have no kudos in this country anymore. As for the male/female ratio, engineering has historically been male dominated and a lot of women would be put off by this. I think it is also fair to say that generally speaking men have more enquiring minds.

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  • If people tried to push more women into engineering, the result would be less men entering the profession. Where ever either gender pushes into a traditionally one-gender trade or institution, that trade or institution suffers a decline in numbers. This has happened in the Military, Nursing, the Clergy, Amateur Boxing, Veterinary Science, teaching, Medicine and many, many more. Why? isn't important but if women are artificially steered into engineering, then engineering will see a disproportionate decline in men entering the profession.

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  • With the risk of incurring the wrath of many who may read this, allow me to take the opposing view. Having worked in both the USA and the UK, I will offer that the UK's engineering workforce would be enhanced by a better gender balance than current. Women's brains do have more neurological connections between two hemispheres than men, which is why women tend to recover from strokes faster than men. That difference in physiology does lead to a different thought process. As a Chartered Engineer and a Fellow of the IChemE, I have been told numerous times that I think differently, and I believe different and creative thinking support our profession, the public we serve and better business outcomes. Perhaps, if there had been more women engaged in UK engineering, that UK businesses could have been more successful. It is never too late to start. Studies in other cultures say that decision making improves when more women are present. [Catalyst] That is the logic behind the push for more women on Boards of Directors. Thought diversity is the ultimate goal, and more creative solutions may be found when people around the table have different backgrounds and life experiences. While different genders do not guarantee the prior statement, it does increase the probability of success.

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  • Here is an article that may be informational to the general readership:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/12/female-engineers_n_5668504.html?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592

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