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Bridging gender divide calls for engagement and mentoring

With the new university year just around the corner, the spotlight once again falls on the subject choices young people are making.

While this year’s A-level results show a growing number of students choosing science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), there is still a significant gender gap.

Compared with five years ago, the UK’s A-level maths intake has increased by more than 15,000 students, but only 30 per cent of them are female. With physics, only 21 per cent of the 5,311 additional students are female.

Our industry is striving to hire a diverse range of new entrants, both at apprentice and graduate levels, but the shortage of girls studying STEM subjects at school is reflected in the number of women entering technical professions.

This is a major issue the construction sector knows it needs to address.

Diversity matters

There are many reasons why diversity is important in the workplace.

Greater diversity among team members in terms of gender, backgrounds and cultures helps foster a more innovative approach to tackling complex technical challenges.

However, the ‘masculine’ image of the construction industry could be putting off many female candidates from applying for technical roles.

The big question now is how the industry can attract more women and create a truly diverse workplace.

An important step is to take STEM professions to girls from an early age to show the exciting contribution towards creating a better world made by people working in the built environment.

“For women currently in the industry, mentoring plays a vital role in the sustained drive for greater diversity”

Aecom regularly visits schools to ignite a passion for STEM professions in young minds and to show female students in particular that our industry offers a variety of exciting career paths.

It is important to reach out to children at primary school age before misconceptions about gender stereotypes are formed.

Greater collaboration is required between businesses and schools to tackle the problem in a co-ordinated manner.

The government’s new employer-led careers advice body can hopefully help with this.

Under the wing

For those women currently working in the industry, mentoring plays a vital role in the sustained drive for greater diversity.

Here at Aecom, we have a global mentoring scheme for women called mCircles.

Under the programme, women in leadership positions within our business mentor female colleagues – not just at entry level, but throughout their careers at Aecom.

In addition to providing ongoing personal development and coaching, the workstreams cover different career stages, as well as specific areas where female employees have said they would like additional support.

Developing the careers of women from a variety of backgrounds is extremely important to the success of our industry.

Companies need a diverse workforce to deliver the projects of the future.

The construction sector must now prove it is an attractive and inclusive place for women to work.

Richard Robinson is Aecom’s chief executive of civil infrastructure in Europe, Middle East, Africa and India

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