Engineering gender equity
The United Nation Commission on the status of women made an astounding claim in 2014 that Sub-Saharan Africa needed 2,5 million engineers and technicians just to improve access to clean water and sanitiation. In 2013, the Engineering Council of South Africa said only 11% of the engineers registered with the council were women and only 4% were professional women engineers. Furthermore, the Council has estimated that, while growing numbers of women enrol for engineering at university, 70% of women with engineering degrees leave their jobs soon after starting, a rate far higher than that of men.
The lack of gender equity in engineering fields in South Africa mirrors experiences in most of the world. In South Africa and globally, only 19% of engineering jobs are occupied by women and in both the United States and United Kingdom, the percentage is a dismal 15%. Given the fact that South Africa’s employment equity legislation forces engineering firms to hire more women, the reasons for the persistent lack of women in engineering demand interrogation.
There is no doubt that the inherent stress, pressure to perform and long work days typical of the engineering sector play a role, as does the fact that many young women leave their jobs for a time to start families. However, the growth and transformation of the engineering sector – in dire need of skilled artisans and professionals – are inhibited in other, less visible ways.
Firstly, there is an absence of women in engineering with sufficient public visibility to act as role models and impact on girls’ post-school career and study decisions. As a result, despite the general parity in terms of numbers of males and females studying Science, Technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at school, fewer girls opt for STEM disciplines in post-school studies.
Secondly, there is an overwhelming male culture in the sector, where few women have advanced to senior management levels. Women have reported that because of patriarchal, dismissive and undermining behaviours among male peers and managers, they are compelled to work twice as hard as men to be taken seriously or to be offered the same growth opportunities and salaries routinely enjoyed by male peers (women in engineering earn 25% less on average in the UK).
Thirdly, even when young women have been able to enter the sector through employment equity, the firms often tend to be more concerned with counting numbers and complying with quotas than empowering women. These women tend to be assigned junior, subordinate roles that ultimately doom their prospects of advancing to the board room and impacting on gender transformation and empowerment.
False Bay TVET College is committed to employment and workshop learning equity, diversity and inclusion and strives to create a welcoming work and learning place for everyone, regardless of gender, race or culture. We believe transforming the engineering sector and advancing the roles and progression of women in science, engineering and technology are not only critical business imperatives but vital to accelerating growth in the economy. Thankfully, our women engineering students have many excellent role models and thought leaders on campus.