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Can you do more to get women back into engineering?

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More women than ever work in core science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sectors. Yet only 11% of the UK’s engineering workforce is female.

It’s vital to attract young female engineers, and certainly more investment is needed to encourage girls to take the STEM GCSEs and A-levels needed for engineering courses.

But there’s another way to improve the gender imbalance: focusing on women who’ve previously left the sector. In 2015, the Women's Engineering Society estimated that 22,000 qualified women had not returned to engineering roles after a career or maternity break - and far more employers need to spot this untapped talent pool.

So to mark International Women in Engineering Day in June, let’s look at some steps your engineering company could take to do your bit.

Shout about flexible working

According to one industry study, 93% of job hunters not currently employed would prefer to work either part-time, or flexibly in a full-time role. But in reality less than one in ten vacancies are advertised as flexible, part-time or job shares.

Could your company use flexible working as a specific benefit that you advertise with roles? Where practical, this might mean flexible working hours, part-time, working from home for part of the week, or a job share.

The important next step would be to have open conversations about these different ways of working during the recruitment process.

Our advice at RHL is clear: making it obvious that your business is open to a more flexible way of working is a way to attract a more diverse candidate field. In fact, it could make it logistically possible for an excellent female engineer with caring commitments to return to their career.

Recognise a lack of confidence

It’s not uncommon for anyone who’s been away from the workplace to experience a loss of professional self-belief. This can be especially true for women who’ve spent time bringing up children.

Lack of confidence is often a reason for professional women to return to lower level positions - a figure estimated as 66% in 2016.

Employers don’t always make the situation easier, openly assuming that a gap in a CV is a red flag for a deterioration in skills. Plus, the engineering sector is changing fast, with emerging technologies rapidly rendering technical skills and capabilities out of date.

Lend returners a helping hand

Given the factors above, it’s hardly surprising that most women returning to work need support to return to a previous level of seniority.

Fortunately, there’s now a drive to help employers attract women returning to professional careers with what’s known as ‘returner’ programmes - paid short-term work placements with mentoring, support and networking opportunities added in.

Through schemes like Stem Returners, returners have a supported route to return to their careers, and businesses can reap the benefits of experienced employees with plenty to offer.

With skills gap already rife in many sectors - including engineering - it’s clear that businesses must do more to tap into the huge talent pool of women engineers who’ve taken a career or maternity break.

Workforce diversity is the smart option for every organisation. And making an effort to recruit women returners means your team reaps the benefits of experience, maturity and commitment as standard. So whatever your engineering company can do to help someone restart the career they worked hard to build, the better.