APESMA’s submission to the Senate inquiry into the engineering skills shortage highlighted the important role of women in building capacity across the male dominated technical sectors.
The engineering profession is characterised by being overwhelmingly male, over-worked and of a higher mean age than the rest of the workforce.
Any strategy to tackle the engineering and science skills shortages must draw on the valuable contribution women can make to these fields. To increase their participation we need to embed greater flexible workplace practices.
APESMA’s biannual survey Women in the Professions: The State of Play, 2009-10 concluded that priority attention was needed to address workplace culture in male dominated professions to remove barriers to the full participation of professional women in the workforce.
Despite widespread reports of skills shortages in key professions and the difficulty that employers face in retaining key professional staff, the survey findings reveal that strategies to attract, retain and promote women professionals may be hampered by cultural barriers and inflexible working practices.p9
In this report, 47.4 per cent of respondents to the survey stated that their career progression had been affected by workplace culture and 71.6 per cent of engineer respondents said taking parental leave was likely to be detrimental to their career.
Nearly 40 per cent of respondents had experienced bullying, 38 per cent had experienced discrimination and 20 per cent reported experiences of sexual harassment. Nearly a quarter of respondents expected to leave their profession within five years.
APESMA’s professional women members tell the same stories as their science, engineering and technical colleagues around the world. The existing rich body of research has identified the problem and chronicled some attempts to find solutions.
Since the publication of The State of Play, 2009-10, APESMA’s research has found that national and international women’s organisations, governments, employers, the education and research sector are all expressing a real ‘appetite for change’.
Best practice models are being developed across industries and more recently in engineering.
APESMA’s National Women’s Strategy aims to create genuine change in the organisational culture of male dominated technical industries. A key element of this strategy is to lead a project team across consulting, construction and asset owner employers to identify best practice and drive implementation. APESMA is calling on the Commonwealth Government to support this initiative through project funding and in-kind support and procurement policy.
APESMA is also calling for policy development to ensure gender diversity in contractor teams. An example of which is the “15 per cent policy” in South Australia. APESMA is calling for this to be considered for all government infrastructure investments, as a method to drive best practice. Such a strategy should consider gender specific training and development requirements and retention measures.