Diversity in engineering: 12% of women is not enough

Chris Nielsen, President of Engineers Australia’s Queensland Division, weighs in on gender representation in engineering.

How can we be so skewed?
I’ve had many conversations with both men and women in engineering over the past year, listening to feedback on the reasons and issues as to why there are vastly more men than women in engineering in Australia.
A lack of women in our profession profoundly limits us, both in terms of absolute numbers of engineers and also in our ability to effectively function in a world where there are as many women as men. As has been quoted several times, the engineering profession in Australia has left half the team on the bench, a situation which hasn’t significantly improved in a generation.
Our imbalance affects us all; gender equality is associated with improved productivity and economic growth, increased organisational performance, enhanced ability to attract talent and retain employees and enhanced organisational reputation (Workplace Gender Equality Agency).
There is no fundamental reason whatsoever why there shouldn’t be more women in engineering in Australia; 35% of engineers in Europe are women. Iran has more than 50% women in engineering and 70% of all STEM graduates are women. Similar representation needs to be achieved in Australia if we are to continue our place as global leaders.
Education, promotion, workplace improvements, work flexibility and addressing overt and unconscious bias are all necessary to improve our outcomes in the future.
For the present, we need to focus on the positives. I would argue that women in engineering are often better equipped to tackle challenges compared to their male counterparts because of the additional hurdles they have already successfully overcome. Workplaces with gender equality tend to be better work environments because they reflect the real world, providing balanced opinions, perspective and diversity.
In my experience, the best places to work are those with more women. Utilising these advantages is an opportunity for change.

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