The Second World War saw an influx of women into male dominated professions such as engineering. So much so, that in 1943 the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU) took the decision to admit women members for the first time and women have continued to consolidate their position within the sector and within their unions ever since.
Since that time much has changed in the world of work and the issue of gender inequality and occupational segregation in engineering is now widely recognised. We know now that occupational segregation in STEM fields costs the Scottish economy £170milion each year; we know that 73% of women with qualifications in these fields leave the sector, compared to 49% of men and we know that the Scottish Government forecasts the need for 120,000 more engineers by 2020.
Companies are also recognising the benefits of diverse workforces and many are working to create more inclusive cultures. At Equate, we have the good fortune to work with passionate women and men from across the sector who are committed to creating change through flexible-working, taking positive action and challenging structural barriers.
Trade Unions continue to have a key role to play in this work. In recent years, Prospect the Union has taken the lead in championing the needs of women looking to return to science and engineering following a career break. Their research in this area, has resulted in the development of returnship programmes that have enabled talented women to step back onto the career ladder.
Today is International Women in Engineering Day – a day to celebrate the many achievements of women in engineering and also a day to remember that supporting this agenda is the right thing to do both economically and socially. Without women, Scotland cannot meet its STEM sector targets and if we do not work to overcome occupational segregation in these sectors, then we risk locking women out of the jobs of the future.
In order to prevent this, we must all work together. We need engineering employers to take bold action to attract and retain women to and in their organisations. Equally, we need our trade unions to be at the fore front of discussions on gender equality, challenging the status quo and championing change. There is a real opportunity for Unions to lead on these issues, just as Prospect has done, and Equate Scotland looks forward to working with Unions to make this vision for Scotland a reality.
Allison Johnstone started her career as a chemical engineer with the oil and gas industry. She now works as Training and Development Manager at Equate Scotland, the national experts on women in STEM fields. She is member of Unison.
Photograph found at: https://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/mrc/explorefurther/images/ase160/