Less than one fifth of the engineering workforce is female. But a new discussion guide from the Champions of Change Coalition can facilitate conversations around power imbalances, helping to improve gender equality in the profession.
Power dynamics exist in all areas of life, whether in personal, societal or organisational spheres.
The Power to create inclusive gender equality in the workplace discussion guide, released on 17 June, builds awareness of how power is attained and attributed – both individually and structurally – and the impact this has on inclusive gender equality.
The resource is a practical tool with five key actions to help leaders and teams identify potential bias in workplace language, said Engineers Australia CEO Romilly Madew, a member of the Champions of Change Coalition.
“At the current rate of change, the World Economic Forum suggests gender parity across economic, education, health and political benchmarks will not be achieved globally for another 132 years,” she said.
“Addressing power dynamics and their effect on gender equality in the workplace is a positive step we can instigate now, and this paper will help workplaces get there.”
Addressing the gender gap in engineering
While all professions have power inequalities that must be addressed, some are more pronounced than others due to lack of diverse representation.
For example, as the largest employer of all STEM professions, engineering has the lowest female representation (13%), as highlighted by the Office of the Chief Scientist’s 2020 Australia’s STEM Workforce Report.
Both attraction and retention of female engineers is a problem in the profession, said Justine Romanis, National Manager, Professional Diversity and STEM at Engineers Australia.
“The more we perpetuate a male-dominated work environment, the longer this will continue to be an issue,” she said. “Having discussions openly and honestly is crucial to changing the dial.”
Achieving gender parity is not only the right thing to do, it’s also good business.
“Having a balanced, diverse and inclusive workplace is statistically a better business decision,” said Romanis. “There are better business outcomes, higher revenues, and it leaves you in a better financial situation through staff retention and helping your organisation become a workplace of choice.”
While this is a highly-positive business proposition in and of itself, the benefits extend even further for the engineering profession.
“There’s a huge engineering skills shortage, so it’s beneficial to be an organisation with an inclusive workplace to attract the most diverse talent possible,” she said.
“Organisations that don’t prioritise this risk issues with building the workforce required to deliver on their commitments.”
Using the guide in practice
It can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to topics like power and gender equality, particularly for organisations new to these discussions, said Romanis.
“The five actions are an effective and important way for individuals and groups to explore the power dynamic within their teams and how it can inhibit or advance gender equality within the organisation,” she said.
The discussion guide’s actions for leaders include:
- understand how you attained power
- understand how others perceive your use of power
- consider how and who you are empowering
- understand the types of personal power used in your organisation and how they impact gender equality
- challenge organisational systems, structures, processes and cultures to ensure they empower employees equally.
The resource has a top-down function, and is designed to be distributed beyond the C-Suite to all people managers.
“CEOs are having these conversations all the time, and they have a broad understanding of the things that contribute to gender inequality,” said Romanis. “But as you go further down to direct people managers, there isn’t the same level of understanding.”
The way the guide is used in each organisation will vary based on what’s happening in their people and culture teams.
“Some organisations have already rolled out programs that work for them, and the discussion guide might be a nice addition to that,” she said. “For others that may not have started any of this work, it’s a great way to get the executive team and other levels of leadership together to discuss the best way to approach these conversations.”
Sharing the guide
From Engineers Australia’s perspective, it’s important to share the guide as broadly as possible to ensure widespread awareness across engineering organisations and networks.
“We have a number of the Champions of Change resources listed on our diversity and inclusion page for our members to access,” said Romanis.
“As the peak body for the profession, we share these resources to help organisations develop more diverse and inclusive workplaces, and assist them in building a gender-balanced profession.”
To understand more about the personal and structural power impacts in your organisation, Download the Power to create inclusive gender equality in the workplace discussion guide here.