It is well known that in Australia, the majority of those working in the engineering industry are men. At the moment, women make up around 12 percent of the engineers in Australia, meaning that the industry is fairly behind others in terms of gender diversity.
However, Australia is doing fantastic work to bridge the gap. Both the public and private sectors are investing in many initiatives to encourage young women's interest in STEM careers and generate an industry culture that allows female engineers to thrive.
The Story so Far in Australia
To move forward, we must learn from the past. The landscape of the engineering industry is continuously changing, and we have seen some incredibly positive changes towards gender equity in recent history.
Over the last 50 years, the number of women in the industry has increased threefold. The industry is committed to advancing further and there is a feeling of frustration that the current rate of progress is too slow. However, this frustration has been positive as it has acted as a catalyst to keep seeking new solutions to help female engineers succeed.
First, let's take a quick look back at Australian history to see how far we have come…
1944 – Diane Lemaire becomes the first woman in Australia to graduate with a degree in Engineering, 68 years after Elizabeth Bragg, the first-ever female engineer, graduated from the University of California.
1986 – Australia passes the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act. This creates crucial social change for all Australian women.
1990s – Australia is seen as a world leader in the research into issues facing women in Engineering. Universities all over Australia begin specialised programs to support women interested in STEM careers.
2007 – Year of Women in Engineering – in the government and private sectors, attention turns to attracting and retaining women in Engineering.
2020 – The Australian government releases its action plan for advancing women in STEM.
Education & Perception: Encouraging Girls to Engage with STEM
Right now, it is evident that primary and high school girls are much less likely to aspire to a STEM-related career in comparison to boys.
What are we doing to change this?
For younger children aged 8 to 12 years old, the government has created the Future You program. The Future You content breaks down the gender stereotypes that have become embedded in the perception of STEM industries.
In 2018, the government released the 'Girls in STEM' Toolkit. Along with other programs, such as The Australian Mathematics Trust and Australian Science Innovations Curious Mind, the toolkit provides high school and university students with the chance to explore STEM subjects through hands-on learning and stories of first-hand experience with mentoring sessions.
These initiatives are only the beginning. The bottom line is that the next generation will grow up with a completely different perception of STEM careers than their parents. Australia is prioritising the visibility of women in STEM to create a culture that breaks through stereotypes, celebrates female role models, and combats bias in the industry.
Getting Down to Business
With so much being done at the education level to encourage women's involvement in STEM, how are businesses working to attract women to the industry and create an environment that helps women prosper?
A large part of retaining women in the industry is making sure to provide flexible working environments.
In speaking to Engineers Australia's online journal, Managing Director at Aurecon, Louise Adams, suggests that those in senior positions in the industry need to challenge themselves to build a diverse team around them. A company's ability to attract diverse talent will depend on its approach to creating a culture of inclusivity.
Adams suggests improving parental leave and shared care policies, pay structures, and leadership development programs is an excellent place to start.
To motivate engineering companies to strive for gender diversity and give an idea of what businesses should be aiming for, Engineer's Australia has created the Gender Diversity Awards. The award encourages companies to listen to their employee's needs and not be afraid to change policy to keep up with the industry's dynamic landscape.
The perception of engineering is changing with our younger generation. Our job is to build an inclusive industry that celebrates gender equity, to pass on to Australia's future engineers. We need to continue to promote the idea that anyone can succeed in a STEM career if they just have the drive to do so.
At Titan Recruitment, we want to make the most of the incredible talent of female STEM workers in Australia and see female and male engineers alike thrive in their workplace. Please do not hesitate to contact our team to learn more about the opportunities we have to offer in the engineering sector.
Happy International Women's Day!