The numbers of women in engineering remain consistently low, which is why these Male Champions of Change are trying to promote gender equity from the top down.
Top executives from some of the biggest global engineering firms are working together to bring gender equity to their workforces, with initiatives including flexible working hours, non-gendered parental leave and sexual harassment policies.
Engineering has a persistent problem with gender equity: women make up only about 12 per cent of the workforce, and that number has proved hard to change over the years.
Peter Bailey, CEO of Arup for the Australiasia region, chairs the Consult Australia Male Champions of Change (CAMCC) consortium. He said that engineers excel at connecting communities with roads and rails, but have struggled to connect fairly and equally with each other.
“We help build cities of skyscrapers and stadia, yet must do more to help build a society in which all can contribute on a level playing field. This is why we are committed to collaboration, publishing in detail our progress on gender diversity and holding ourselves to account,” he said.
Twelve companies are represented in the alliance, including infrastructure giants Aurecon, GHD, AECOM, Arcadis and Jacobs.
The group was founded by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, who said that gender equality is not specific to any one sector or firm, but a challenge for our whole society.
“I commend the contribution of the Consult Australia Male Champions of Change. In business, they are the fiercest competitors, but on the issue of gender equality they come together as one,” she said.
The group has reported some important progress during their first year of operation, including Aurecon becoming one of the first engineering consultancies in the nation to roll out a shared-care policy. It gives families the choice of who provides the primary care to a child under one year old, with incentives for returning Aurecon employees that help compensate for partners who are unable to access paid parental leave from other employers.
Another initiative is a pilot program trialed by Jacobs, AECOM and GHD, in which individual male leaders act as a ‘sponsor’ for a talented woman rising through the corporate ranks. This program is distinct from traditional mentoring programs; sponsors don’t simply provide career advice, but actively advocate to (largely male) senior management to open up advancement paths for the woman they sponsor.
Arcadis has taken a more holistic approach, seeking to shift the entire company’s perception of diversity in the workplace through interactive sessions that encourage managers to commit to initiatives to effect change, with quarterly follow-ups to keep track of progress.
According to Belinda Virant, Business Leader Infrastructure for NSW with Arcadis, this has led to noticeable changes in the way the company is approaching diversity – from flexible work arrangements and recruitment to opportunities such as promotion.
To establish a truly equal playing field for men and women in engineering, there is also a need to further address systemic issues that discourage women from studying engineering, science and other technical fields, that cause them to leave the industry after gaining qualifications or deny them equal access to career opportunities.
According to Consult Australia CEO Megan Motto, the CAMCC are determined to “get this right.”
“We are implementing world-leading best practice, not setting impossible targets, but systematically making changes and committing to a better, fairer future for our industry through our actions,” she explained.