Who needs to belong anyway?
By Liz Scott, Head of Design, Engineering and Manufacturing
Have you ever felt as though you don’t belong? As though you were in an environment that was not meant for you? As though you had to work harder than anybody else to prove your worth?
Sadly, it’s a feeling that thousands of female engineers have every single day.
Engineering is the most male-dominated field in STEM. According to EngineeringUK, only 16.5% of this workforce is female in the UK, and while that number has increased over the past few years, it remains small in proportion to the number of males. The equivalent number in manufacturing is 26%. Compare these figures against 72% in education and 44% in the financial sector, and you can see there is work still to be done.
I almost fell into a career in manufacturing, and I am fortunate that during my time in CHH, I have never felt like I do not belong in this environment. Starting my CHH career in health and safety, I learned a lot about the organisation, the industry and in particular, our manufacturing processes. The business has never had a culture of manufacturing masculinity; instead, it encourages people of all backgrounds and abilities to explore their goals and realise their aspirations.
I consider myself one of the lucky ones. For it is widely stated that women are more likely to leave a career in manufacturing, than in any sector – for several reasons. Sadly, harassment continues to play a part, and so too does the lack of work balance in some businesses. But for the majority, women leave simply because they feel they just do not belong in what has always been a traditionally male-dominated environment.
Why women in manufacturing and engineering are red pandas
Like the red panda, women in manufacturing and engineering are often solitary and the fact is they still remain fewer in number. As a small, isolated species, it can feel that the red panda does not belong, and yet it contributes an enormous amount to society. The red panda is an indicator species for an entire ecosystem within the Eastern Himalayan Broadleaf Forest, designated a biodiversity hotspot by Conservation International and WWF. The presence, absence or abundance of red pandas enlightens conservationists about the nature and quality of the overall environment.
Manufacturing and engineering are no different. This is a sector where women may be fewer in number, but the ones that are present are making an extraordinary contribution. Last year, Innovate UK (KTN) published a list of 30 Inspiring Women in Manufacturing (**see below for link) which was also picked up by The Manufacturer magazine. I hope it does show that things are slowly starting to change. And like red pandas, the ones that do exist indicate an active, busy and diverse ecosystem. It’s also possible that at some point in their careers, they felt like solitary red pandas, trying to find their way in a world full of danger, risk and uncertainty.
The Manufacturer 100 – bringing red pandas together
It feels like things are steadily changing, and I’m feeling both proud and humbled after being named in The Manufacturer Top 100 list for 2022. I have always felt like I belong at CHH where the culture is one that recognises people on merit. And now to receive this award, I feel this is rippling out to the wider manufacturing community and that progress is being made.
The Top 100 was established in 2013 by The Manufacturer magazine. There was a growing recognition in academic studies and parliamentary reports that there was a lack of visible role models in the industry. The Manufacturer Top 100 was their response, providing a showcase for the most inspiring individuals in industry, to illustrate the enthusiasm and commitment present in modern manufacturing and to underscore the exciting, well-paid and rewarding careers that exist in the sector.
In last year’s Top 100 there were 10 females included as exemplaries – confirmation that though female engineers may be small in number, they make a huge difference and absolutely do belong.
To be named among 99 other great male and female manufacturers and engineers in this list is a huge achievement, but as a female and part of this small ‘red panda’ minority, it means even more. We know that the way to save the red panda is to raise awareness of its threat level and demonstrate the critical role it plays in ecology.
We must do the same to encourage more female manufacturers and engineers; showcase those already active in industry and share the fantastic work they do. By providing this showcase, we can ensure that no female ever feels like they don’t belong in UK engineering or manufacturing.