Helping women climb the ladder

CABLEtalk examines some of the myths surrounding women in the electrical trade – and offers positive tips on recruitment and training

In the UK today, 6% of engineering apprentices are women, with only a handful of them likely to progress to leadership roles.

Electrical companies are becoming more aware of the skills, attributes and ideas that diverse workforces bring.

But while it makes sense socially and economically to champion the inclusion of women, doing so gives rise to certain challenges. It is essential for companies to be aware of prevailing myths and consider robust and effective methods of reaching more women.

Here, we dispel some of the myths about women in the electrical trade – and offer practical tips for taking positive action and reaching women.

Myth 1: ‘The women here are happy and don’t want support, so other women will be the same’

You may have women working with you who see themselves as ‘one of the guys’. Some may even balk at the idea of women and men being reached in different ways. But the reality is that genders do differ and being one of the guys shouldn’t be the expectation. Think about the women you aren’t reaching and what they might need. Remember that if and when you do recruit them, they will bring different backgrounds, skills and strengths to those you currently work with.

Myth 2: ‘Woman aren’t interested in the electrical industry’

The electrical trades offer great opportunities for people of all genders. The harsh truth is that women and other people with protected characteristics have the odds stacked against them and also respond to different kinds of advertising. The industry image is not neutral but in fact very laddish, which can be off-putting and isolating to some women. Some may be concerned about banter, the hours fitting other responsibilities or simply feeling like they don’t belong.

Myth 3: ‘Reaching out to women is positive discrimination – it’s unlawful and patronising’

Reaching out to groups who are at a distinct disadvantage and encouraging their participation is positive action. It is lawful because it doesn’t hand anyone an opportunity – it removes barriers to make opportunities more accessible. For example, advertising roles with women’s networks simply makes the roles visible to more women. In contrast, positive discrimination is about actively favouring people, typically offering them jobs based on protected characteristics.

Tip 1: Consider recruitment and retention together

If you want women to apply and stay, it’s worth evaluating your work environment with the same rigour as you would your recruitment strategy. Many employers think there are absolutely no problems but the reality is we all have unconscious biases affecting who gets hired, promoted and blamed. Having unconscious bias training for staff is a good all-rounder for improving all work environments and informing inclusive recruitment practices.

Tip 2: Consider or rethink your outreach activities

Approach local primary and secondary schools through your local authority. Develop strong relationships with one or two schools and keep going back. From time to time, ask for girls exclusively, as they work better with their peers – remember the boys are not disadvantaged as they are already being reached. Bring along women role models if you can and provide work-based learning and activities that highlight the all-important communication and team-working skills that women tend to relate to.

Tip 3: Consider rewriting your recruitment materials

Your website, job adverts and even aptitude tests may appear neutral but are likely to be gendered in favour of men. Women tend to consider the social impact of a role so be sure to talk about how the post helps people and communities. Give equal weighting to the necessary skills women are more likely to relate to, such as communication, team-working and problem solving. Highlight all support and benefits such as childcare vouchers, mentoring or training opportunities.

Help is at hand

Equate Scotland is the national expert on the inclusion of women in STEM. If you’re an organisation in Scotland with a male-dominated workforce and want free advice and training on recruiting and retaining women, call 0131 455 5108. You can also get information and guidance from the SELECT Employment Affairs team on 0131 445 5577.

SELECT joins equality debate

SELECT will play a key role in an upcoming Parliamentary debate about equal rights for women in the construction industry.

The Cross-Party Group (CPG) for Construction will focus on Gender Equality in Scottish Construction at its meeting at Holyrood in June.

SELECT will be heavily involved in the debate, which will feature presentations on apprenticeships and discuss initiatives designed to encourage women to consider joining the industry.

SELECT has been a member of the CPG for Construction since it was first established.

It aims to ensure that Scotland has a world-class construction industry, delivering best value for clients, safe on-site environments and proper career paths for employees.

Acting as a forum for MSPs, stakeholders and interested parties to engage directly with each other, it raises awareness of opportunities and challenges in the sector and helps with policy development.

An update on the meeting and the issues discussed will be provided in the next edition of CABLEtalk.

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