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Increase female SME engineers to boost diversity

For years the industry has been debating why we have such a low number of female engineers.

Interesting arguments relating to our education system and societal attitudes are often raised.

But one overlooked issue is why the female engineers we do have usually opt to work for larger firms over SMEs – and the impact this has.

Bigger pull

According to the Women’s Engineering Society, 9 per cent of the engineering workforce is female, but of this low figure the vast majority appear to work for larger firms.

Clearly there are benefits to working for both large and small businesses, but particular skills are obtained working for an SME.

Not only do you work on more stages of a project, you will often have responsibility for winning new business and potentially helping to run the company.

“9 per cent of the engineering workforce is female, but of this low figure the vast majority appear to work for larger firms”

Significantly, these skills help sow the seeds of entrepreneurialism and install the confidence required to start a business.

If more female engineers worked for SMEs we could see an increase in the number of women running engineering businesses.

And women running engineering firms could be the ultimate answer to changing perceptions and attracting more women to the industry.

So why aren’t more women working for SMEs?

Changing perceptions

Conversations with our recruitment consultants threw up a few potential reasons.

These include that women prefer city centre locations where the bigger firms are located, that larger businesses are less male-dominated, and that they provide the opportunity to travel.

“Women running engineering firms could be the ultimate answer to changing perceptions”

It’s clear that more needs to be done to understand the issue. In the meantime, I urge smaller engineering firms to consider how we can help.

Many of us work with schools and universities to discuss the profession, but are we selling the benefits of working for a smaller company, too?

If we can do this, we could see many more female engineers.

Claire Palmer is the director of London structural engineering firm Symmetrys

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