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Gender Pay Gap – Women in STEM
Gender Pay Gap – Women in STEM

Posted by: Nicola Halliday
Date: 2019-05-22

We believe the Gender Pay Gap in the STEM industry stems (excuse the pun) back to reasons from many years ago. 

Historically, (and still today) much of the STEM industry was viewed in the main as jobs for men which led to a reputation of being a traditional, male dominated environment.  Of course, women would work in the industry but doing what was considered as lesser roles such as secretary, cleaner and semi-skilled jobs for example.

One story told to us was of a 16 year old female who started working in an engineering company in the 80’s.  She had not long started and part of the training involved sorting and delivering mail. They drew straws between the four trainees to see who would be the unlucky one to go and deliver mail round the factory.  This 16 year old female went into one manager’s office as this was where the mailbox was stored to collect the mail.  The manager was briefing all his superintendents and foreman.  She still remembers the outfit she was wearing that day and it is some 30 years later.  He stopped speaking and said to her ‘has anyone ever told you what a great set of mammeries you have?’.  Her face went as red as her trousers.  She quickly collected the mail and ran out the office. She can recall how embarrassed she was, how she held back the tears.  She knows how she would respond if this was said to her today. 

As companies have matured, the world has changed, employment legislation has changed, views change, our experience is that this type of incident described above occurs less these days in such a blatant format.

For many reasons, the industry image we are now trying to combat derives from other things too; toy manufacturers, young children at school, career advisors, school league tables which encourage more children to do degrees than considering apprenticeships, women choosing what degrees to study at university and in-between that views from parents, the culture they are brought up in, and the environments they live in.

Then, when women hit the workplace, they find it is a world designed for men.  For example, PPE was often designed and aimed at men not women (for example boiler suits, although some progressive companies have now worked to bring in female PPE which is a brilliant step forward) and think of the hidden figures film where the female toilets were located far away or even non-existing!

Traditionally, women were seen as the main carer for children and medically have to have time out of the business - now employment legislation has been created to try and combat the caring and nurturing side to shift that balance but this will take time as women are still seen as a main carer.  Forward thinking companies, like Aviva and Diageo now offer men and women equal parental leave. They have recognised men and women want to be involved in child care and have received overwhelming positive feedback from their people.

Also, things like ‘boys clubs’ days out on the golf courses - women could not support this as they were not even allowed into the golf club – business development wrongly being done in an environment where women couldn’t go (and still can’t in many golf clubs). 

Often the type of words used in business are more masculine – think of job adverts and performance appraisals – how many have you read with words like – competitive, determined, and ambitious, to name a few. 

So what, we hear you cry.  Well, engineering in the UK is suffering a serious skills shortage.  At just 9%, the UK has the lowest proportion of female professional engineers of any European country and the pace of change in the diversity of the UK engineering workforce has been disappointingly slow.

For example; 51% working age population is female, 16% working age adults are disabled, 14% UK population are from ethnic minority and 6% UK population are lesbian, gay or bi-sexual.  Is this reflected across the industry?

The industry has seen some improvement in attracting women to it but what do we do when we have these women? How do we develop and support them? What impact do the policies, processes, procedures, behaviours and organisational culture have? Does it allow everyone to be at their best? Has it all been reviewed to understand any adverse impact? The gap is not closing so we are not fixing the problems.

We welcome the Gender Pay Gap to help drive change across the industry.  This is the 2nd year organisations with over 250 employees are required to report on their Gender Pay Gap.  More than 70 engineering related companies in the UK pay men 35% or more on average compared to women. 

McKinsey revealed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have the financial returns that were above the national industry medium. (Why Diversity matters) – so what do we have to lose by changing the way we do things?

There is a whole lot of history that needs changing and that is why to do so organisations need action plans that support a systemic change to practices, processes, and policies that won’t happen quickly or overnight it will take time.  The Clear Company can help you achieve this – contact us today.