This is a guest blog by Holly Welles
In the engineering industry, only 13% of professionals are women. Moreover, only 30% of women who earned a bachelor’s in engineering remain in the field for more than 20 years. Often, workplace culture, a lack of appreciation for their skills, and gender discrimination, in general, drive them away from the industry. This is a detriment to the engineering world as the industry’s workplace diversity dwindles. In addition, it negatively impacts female engineers.
Engineering is a swiftly growing industry that promises excellent pay, good benefits, and the chance to make a difference in the world. From green building to virtual reality, the industry continues to shift and transform with technology. Women deserve as much of a chance to establish a fulfilling career in this exciting field. However, if female engineers are to persist in their field, they need the support of their employers and coworkers. Here is how you can support women in your workplace:
1. Recognize Technical Expertise
Negative stereotypes about women often reinforce the harmful idea that women engineers are less suited to the technical rigors of STEM fields. This attitude can create an environment that, even unwittingly, leads men to look down on their coworkers’ skills or make assumptions about their ability to tackle a project.
Thus, many women feel their skill set is not valuable or worthy of appreciation. Show these women you value them by trusting their judgment and letting them take the lead on projects they’re heading. They don’t have to prove anything to their male counterparts; they were hired onto the team via the same interview and testing process everyone else endured.
2. Give Stretch Assignments and Feedback
Women express interest in learning new skills and growing in their careers just like their male counterparts. By accepting challenges and tackling higher-level responsibilities, women become more confident in their capabilities as engineers, which is an important thing to have if they’re to persist in a field where they might feel outnumbered.
Therefore, it’s essential for leaders to give them periodic stretch assignments beyond their existing skill level. Let them take ownership and begin to recognize the extent of their project management expertise. The experience may completely reshape the way they view themselves and their role within the engineering industry.
3. Review Your Company’s Recruiting Efforts
Recruitment is one bottleneck where qualified women might begin to feel unwelcome. One Stanford University project reviewed 84 STEM recruiting sessions, finding that men were often leading discussions in an expert role while female employees were largely present to speak to work-life balance or provide event support. This imbalance can lead potential recruits to envision a future where their knowledge and academic success cannot translate into the same leadership opportunities as their male peers.
When your team recruits and interviews, review who takes the lead and what women are expected to speak on. What message does this send to young women in the industry? Often, organizations can inadvertently reinforce unfair stereotypes when they’re not examined. Check on your recruitment process to look for silent signals that may discourage female applicants.
4. Point Them to a Mentor
If you don’t feel comfortable remarking on your female coworker’s work, search for a higher-level employee or even a manager to whom you can commend them formally. This glowing review could prompt managers to reach out to your coworker and mentor her.
In the same way, recommend potential mentors to your female coworkers. They need someone they can connect with and look up to, especially in a workplace full of men. This could make the difference between their staying in the field or leaving.
5. Be a Buffer
Survey data indicates more than half of female engineers experience sexual harassment in the workplace. Understandably, this obstacle either keeps women out of the field or causes them to leave. Often, managers and colleagues struggle to control workplace culture, regardless of how hard they may try.
Men, therefore, have an important responsibility to put an end to this harassment and protect and support women from misconduct. Act as a buffer between female coworkers and those who have a tendency to harass them. Create an awareness of the risks of workplace harassment and hold offenders accountable for their behavior. Doing so will enable women to persist in the industry.
Welcoming Women Into Engineering
Of course, the first step to support women in your workplace is to be aware of them and how they act and feel in different situations. Let the women in your industry speak to the unique challenges they face and make efforts to root out examples of this culture in your own workplace.
This will allow you to better tune in to their stress level and recognize when they may be struggling to persevere. As more people follow your lead, there will undoubtedly be more women in the engineering industry.
About Holly Welles
Holly Welles is a real estate and construction writer with an interest in emerging market trends. She is the editor behind The Estate Update, and even more of her work can be found via Twitter @HollyAWelles.
We would love to hear any questions you might have or stories you might share about how you support women in your workplace.
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success