Society is slowly shifting away from the patriarchal mindset where “males only” are capable of certain types of jobs. We are now seeing an influx of women in various industries that had been previously unprecedented - the engineering and construction industry.
The built environment’s composition
The built environment space, headlined by the construction industry, is a critical component of the Australian economy.
More than a third of the Australian workforce encompasses this growing industry attributing to over 9% of the GDP and with an average revenue growth rate of about 8.65%. However, its stellar economic contributions remain largely indebted to the male population where a meagre 13% of it is comprised of female engineers.
This means the industry is still gender-biased. Yet over the years, the male domination had been challenged not only through the growing campaigns of gender equality but also with Australia’s impending engineers’ crisis, making this more of a necessity than an option.
An approximate 1% growth of women contributing to the built industry can be seen in just an expanse of five years with 12.4% in 2016 compared to only 11.8% in 2011 according to data from Engineers Australia. This may seem minuscule at first glance but as the industry had just exited from a major period of recession, this can be an auspicious step in the right direction.
Female engineering graduates increasingly better performers
More women are now considering engineering qualifications which is a focal point and although the growth rate is slow, this is still significant.
In 2015, a 17% average of all Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees were undertaken by women at Australian universities compared to the 14% enrollment rate for women in the engineering programs a decade ago. It is also important to note that women are increasingly becoming better performers than their male counterparts in these programs. Based on one of the surveys conducted by the Australian Council of Engineering Deans (ACED), the success rate of engineering courses for females at Australian universities had gone on an upward trend, better than their male counterparts.
Women as critical players
The key takeaway from these stats is that women are as competent, or sometimes even more competent, as their male counterparts in the built environment ecosystem when given a chance.
While institutional enrollment and success rates of women in the industry continue to slowly increase, the retention side of it also paints a gloomy picture. An estimated 13.1% of the female workforce within the 20-39 age bracket leave their jobs compared to just 1.4% of their male counterparts within the same period.
The cause of this selective resignation based on industry reports weigh heavily on two things: the male-female pay gap and a stereotyped culture of “for males” in the engineering jobs in the built environment space.
The good news is that with the help of key stakeholders, both limiting factors are being tackled from a comprehensive standpoint. NGOs like the Power of Engineering Initiative, kick-started by two female engineers are working to make an impact at the foundational level by inspiring students (especially females) to take up STEM-related subjects.
A long list of incentives elsewhere is also being offered to females by businesses, industry groups and institutions to make up for the pay gap. Last year, for instance, The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology awarded scholarships to 30 women enrolled in Bachelor of Engineering courses.
It is hoped that sustained efforts like these will bolster female retention rates and invariably provide a lasting solution to Australia’s shortage of engineering professionals.