Women’s Engineering Society calls for Gender Parity on International Women’s Day
Despite many years and much investment to increase gender diversity in engineering, the change is at best incremental and at worst going in the wrong direction. The recent Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) figures for undergraduate engineers showed that whilst there are more students overall studying engineering this year, the gender gap has actually increased, and that we continue to encourage our children into careers based on their gender rather than their suitability.
This occupational stereotyping is as clear in other sectors as it is in engineering with far fewer boys choosing to work in the caring occupations, arts and languages than girls. Whilst we can continue to make efforts to change this in individual sectors, things will not improve until we make a cultural change to limit gender stereotyping in all areas. Gender parity is about having equality of choice rather than all being equal: we should all be able to choose the colours we wear, the toys we play with, and our future careers based on our individual choice and suitability and irrespective of our gender. This is crucial if we want to close the gender pay gap, which persists because women are encouraged towards jobs in the lower paid end of the careers spectrum, and not encouraged sufficiently to reach the top of their profession.
One way of ensuring that we encourage young people into roles equally is to ensure that gender stereotyping does not occurs in schools, and to measure this through Ofsted inspections. Another way is to ensure that we are inclusive in the everyday language that we use, and where this involves changing some of the terms that we have become familiar with to become gender neutral then this is exactly what we should do. Chairman, Fellow, Liveryman, Freeman, Lord Mayor, Master, Alderman – these are all default male terms that are applied even when women hold these positions, and the impression given is that this is an exception rather than the norm for a woman to reach the top of the tree. Traditional or not, these need to change if we are going to make progress in seeing more women in these senior roles.
Gender parity is about making things equally accessible to all of us, whatever our gender, and in the longterm this will benefit us all.