We need more women engineers

Problem, cause and solution

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My name is Roni Savage, and I am the managing director of Jomas Associates Ltd, an engineering and environmental consultancy I set up in 2009 to serve the construction industry. 

We undertake investigations for residential, community, retail, industrial and commercial schemes, working for land developers across the UK. Supported by my amazing team, we endeavour to offer our clients a rapid, high value, high quality service that is unrivalled.

I am proudly a female engineer, CEO of my engineering company, breaking the mould in what has traditionally been a male-dominated engineering industry.

The Problem

Employing almost three million people and generating approximately £100billion every year for the UK economy, the industry is vital to the nation's prosperity. While investment in construction projects continues to rise, the workforce does not appear to be growing as quickly. Far too few apprentices and graduates are entering the sector, and finding suitable skilled workers is a challenge.

Women are still woefully under-represented in the engineering and construction sectors, to the detriment of our economy. Statistics from Women’s Engineering Society show there has been very little change over the years in female uptake of and achievement in STEM subjects at GCSE. In 2016, 20 per cent of A-level physics students were girls – that figure has not changed for 25 years, resulting in approximately only 11 per cent of the engineering workforce being female.

Too few women see construction and engineering as viable career paths. Yet, both offer fulfilling and amazing possibilities, which I can attest to from my experience.

The Cause

Do women have to shout louder to be heard? Attain more qualifications than their male counterparts to succeed? Are there physical limitations which impact women working in engineering?

Following discussions with several women, some of the reasons considered for this disparity are:

Stereotype – traditionally engineering and construction related careers were promoted to males more than females. The industry has a macho culture, which some women may consider unsuitable. Some women consider that they are not physically able to undertake engineering related tasks.

Career Progression - the industry does not appeal to some females due to perceived barriers to career progression, which is somewhat related to the stereotypes.

The Gender Pay Gap - the disparate pay between men and women presents a barrier to both attracting and retaining the industry’s female workforce. According to the UK's Office for National Statistics, the gender pay gap between men and women working in construction stands at 45.4%, with women paid an average hourly rate of £8.04, compared with £14.74 for men.

Retention – Many women drop out of the engineering and construction related careers due to some of the issues previously identified. Some women also find it impossible to re-enter the industry post child birth or following a career break.

Sexism – While it would appear that extreme gender discrimination is no longer a widespread issue, unfortunately the culture of undermining decisions and competencies of women in engineering and construction still remains in some instances. Many women do feel they have to shout louder to be heard. Some women have also commented on benevolent sexism, which makes them feel awkward working in a male-dominated environment.

The Solution

If the construction industry is to deliver the many essential infrastructure projects, worth billions to the economy, it must keep the female workforce in place, and also continue to attract a more gender-balanced workforce.

  • The industry must focus on developing existing talent, equipping them with appropriate training and knowledge to succeed, and to be retained. The sector itself needs to evaluate why so few women are coming through – or staying in engineering – and companies should take action to address these issues, to ensure there are welcoming places for women to work and succeed.
  • Construction and engineering careers should be promoted to more females.
  • Both women and men working in STEM must be vocal about the challenges, joys and opportunities available in Engineering, to educate and inspire the next generation of girls, from an early age.
  • Role models and successful women in engineering ambassadors are essential to empower other women.

I enjoyed a successful career as a woman in STEM. It has at times, been a huge challenge, but I remain resilient.

I am also a mother to three young boys, and have demonstrated that a woman can achieve in engineering, whilst also building a family. I love construction and everything about the built environment and engineering, and as a result, my passion sees me through.

There are other women like me in engineering and construction – but there are still not enough – it is time for change. The construction and engineering industry needs more women.

Roni Savage

Director, Jomas Associates

I am an accredited SiLC, Chartered Geologist (CGeol), Chartered member of the institute of wastes management (MCIWM), and a Qualified Person under the CL:AIRE Code of Practice for the Definition of Waste (QP). My expertise lies in environmental due-diligence, geo-environmental and geotechnical engineering assessments, and tackling of challenging sites, which ultimately results in saving my clients' money. Aside from my day job, I am passionate about #womeninengineering and #socialmobility.