Encouraging greater gender diversity is a priority in many industries – and manufacturing is certainly no exception. In fact, this is a primary focus when approaching effective and engaged workforce. Minimizing the potential impact of an entire gender is not just discriminatory but incredibly bad management.
Is the lack of existing role models one of the issues that is preventing many females from moving into the sector – or at least staying in it for the long haul?
Keely Quinn, Canberra division manager at Engineers Australia, certainly believes so, as she pointed out that many women in engineering roles who go on maternity leave often fail to return to the profession.
As a result, only a relatively small number of women go on to progress to senior positions, which may influence other females’ perceptions of how far they can go.
“We need to remember that we can’t be what we can’t see,” Ms Quinn told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
“So, if we don’t have females staying in the profession and moving into management and leadership roles, those young girls out there can’t see a reason to move into engineering.”
Ms Quinn also pointed out that universities and colleges are also not doing enough to position manufacturing as a viable career option for women.
Indeed, she said only about six per cent of young women are currently studying suitable subjects, such as science, technology, engineering and maths-related disciplines.
“We train these women and, at about the age of 30 to 35, they leave the workforce and do not come back to the profession after maternity leave,” she stated.
Ms Quinn warned that a “very large gap” has opened up between Australia’s universities and industry, with students not gaining “any kind of access” into the sector, even though this is often a requirement for their coursework.
As a result, young people end up missing a “critical understanding of how businesses work”.
“So if these young people are our future innovators and are going to come up with the next big ideas, with no access to business and industry, how do they know what problems to solve?” Ms Quinn said.
She described the disconnect as “really stark”, which is in turn fuelling a “problem of diversity” in the engineering field.
Ms Quinn insisted that diversity is the “compass of innovation”, as numerous studies have shown that a broader demographic mix in teams leads to better outcomes.
Furthermore, she stressed that research has proven that having one woman on a team is not enough to fully harness this potential for innovation.
Ms Quinn went on to praise the contribution that engineers make, as they do “so much for our society” but regularly show great humility.
However, she said the level of innovation and disruption is “just constantly moving”, which is out of the industry’s control.
This, she argued, means it must be asked whether or not it is “ready for that innovation and change”.
“I ask the question because I don’t necessarily think that we are,” Ms Quinn remarked.
The Bottom Line
With cities such as Sydney experiencing what Ms Quinn describes as an “infrastructure boom”, demand for experienced personnel and the need for innovative operating processes will only continue to grow.
It therefore makes good business sense for the industry to actively focus on attracting and retaining the broadest possible range of talent.