Does gender matter?
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.