What Does the Industry Need to do to Mentor and Develop Women Engineers into Future Business Leaders?

“We’ve come a long way from the sexism of days gone by. Women are far more welcome within male-dominated industries than ever before and cases of overt sexism seem to be few and far between. We must ask ourselves however, why the number of women in engineering is so low and why we see so few females in leadership roles.
One answer could be the unconscious bias that persists despite the sociological progress of recent years. On more than one occasion people have assumed I’m a PA at a meeting, before speculating over the nature of my role; Engineer seeming to be the least probable option. On another occasion, I arrived on-site to be told that it was closed to the public, despite wearing my company jacket with an orange high-vis on display in my passenger seat.

This constant need for women to prove their professional competence before engaging in tasks that foster development, means that females often lag behind their male counterparts, causing them to be passed up for important opportunities.

Unfortunately, this bias is not always easy to detect. Seemingly innocuous leadership criteria reflecting the predominant industry demographic can discourage women’s promotion chances. Moreover, informal mentoring by business leaders, recognising themselves in young male engineers, gives men a significant competitive advantage.

So what could businesses be doing to promote female leadership?

It’s important for individuals to make a conscious effort to unravel these biases: being able to discuss these issues means that they can be confronted. I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive experience with Osborne and some of the greatest progress I’ve made has emerged through my work with people that have had daughters of a similar age to me. They’ve given me support and respect that’s been reflected by others on-site, making it much easier for me to excel. Mentoring systems outside of usual management functions are incredibly valuable in the development of women engineers as business leaders.”

Safia Whitwham is a Graduate Engineer at Osborne.