Flexible working isn’t enough to attract and retain women in your engineering business

Flexible working isn’t enough to attract and retain women in your engineering business

Hiring a diverse workforce is becoming increasingly important to organisations as they realise the value people from different backgrounds are able to add to a business. Whilst diversity and inclusion covers a range of characteristics like nationality, ethnic background and age, it’s the lack of gender diversity which is one of the biggest areas of concern within the engineering industry.

A 2017 survey from Wisecampaign showed that the shortfall of engineering skills was as high as 60,000 last year and only 11% of engineering professionals in the UK are women. Not only could women play a key role in plugging the shortfall, studies show that businesses with a better gender balance perform better; according to a report from McKinsey, more gender diverse businesses outperform their competitors by 15%. 

So how can businesses attract more women to work for them?

The importance of flexible working

UK businesses have been going through a flexible working revolution in recent years; more than half of companies are now offering job sharing, remote working and reduced hours (The Guardian). Flexible working is not just for working mothers but offering flexible working arrangements within your engineering business to anyone - male or female - can only stand to open up interest in your business and to retain high performers.

Very few companies are using flexible working as a way of attracting other women to work for them. A study by our diversity partner, BrightWorks, showed that 45% of the working population are looking for jobs that provide a flexible work pattern but that less than 10% of roles are actually advertised with flexible, part time or job share opportunities. 

Promoting flexible working can certainly help to open up possibilities for women to return to an engineering job after taking a career break, but are flexible working patterns enough? What else can businesses do to attract and retain a gender diverse workforce?

Breaking the return to work barrier

It has been estimated that 22,000 qualified women have not returned to the engineering sector after a career or maternity break (WES). This goes to show that businesses need to do more to retain their female workers.

As an industry that is highly technical and evolves quickly, returning to work after a career break in a STEM profession may well have its challenges. In a survey conducted by Women Returners, the Government Equalities Office and Timewise in 2017, most respondents said they would like some time and support to bring them up to speed on their return. The majority also felt that their professional self-belief was reduced and that being supported to rebuild this confidence would make the return to the workplace more successful. This is why many women return to work in a lower level position. A study by the PwC found that 76% of professional women on career breaks want to return to work but two thirds of returners work below their potential.

One solution to consider while mothers are off work raising their children is using ‘keep in touch’ events, where women can return to work in periodic or ongoing stints to keep abreast of developing technologies and engineering tools. 

Programmes like STEM returners or Women returners aim to help employers attract women returning to the profession after a career break by facilitating short-term work placements. Schemes like these are a great way to ensure that women feel prepared to return to the industry and dispel any fears about being behind the times. And they also offer multiple benefits to businesses. Not only can businesses feel more confident in the skill level of their returning employee, they can also feel assured they’re helping to create a more diverse workforce.

Removing gender bias from your hiring process 

While the talent pool of female candidates may be smaller, there are ways you can improve your chances of attracting them. One such way is by removing gender bias from job and candidate descriptions. 

Research has shown that common words in job descriptions have male or female connotations. For example, using superlatives like “expert” and “world class” are more likely to turn off female applicants, who are stereotypically more collaborative than competitive. Glassdoor has detailed some of the ways you can avoid bias in your job descriptions, and text analysis tools like Textio can also help you remove gender bias from job adverts.

Inclusive recruitment diagnostic tools can also help mitigate any barriers in the process and offer best practice strategies that can help you recruit a more diverse workforce.

By addressing more than just your flexible working policy, you can help attract a more diverse workforce and address the troubling skills shortage in the industry. 

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