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23 JUN 2017

MANBASSADORS NEEDED!

Athena Livesey on International Women in Engineering Day

"You’re the first female engineer I have ever met. I wish you could meet my dad, he was adamant engineering was not a good career for a woman…" recalled one of the female participants at a Top 200 Female Future Leaders event I recently attended. Surprised to learn her father was an engineer, I wondered how much engineering had changed over his career and if he would still agree it is not a place for women to progress and achieve gender equality.

In companies, gender equality usually falls into the remit of an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion steering group. However, gender equality is everyone’s issue and cannot be restricted to a single department or an association. In the workplace, all sexism, both overt and benevolent, can undervalue a woman’s potential which is why we need everyone – men and women - to assist in creating a fair workplace for all.

The Engineers 2017 survey highlighted that women earn on average £4,000 less than men at junior level, and a staggering £20,000 less at director level.

The Engineers 2017 survey highlighted that women earn on average £4,000 less than men at junior level, and a staggering £20,000 less at director level

I recently attended an all-male, board level panel debate about gender equality and one man drew on empathy of implicit bias and said, "Imagine you join a company, and see an all black, women board, as a white collar male how would that make you feel about your career progression in that company? It’s the same situation for minority groups looking at us. It’s a powerful message and it has to change because the consequences are far reaching."

Raising awareness for both women and men is critical to having an impact on this issue. It is important to identify the subtle cues and being comfortable to comment on the ratio of attendees at a meeting, or point out bias comments said in a small conversation.

Raising awareness about gender equality and unconscious bias needs to be inclusive. Men I speak to are curious about this issue and rightly so. Almost all women societies are open to attendance from both sexes, yet there is often a perception they are only for women. Women associations need to actively invite men and show images of men attending their events; in return, male attendees need to reach out and invite others.

Organisations need to provide different formats of gender training that would allow its attendees to choose their own level of participation in order to start an open and honest conversation on the gender equality. A kick off meeting with an all-male group may be a more comfortable environment to speak openly about their understanding of the subject, its purpose, why it matters, and how they can help. Some people may want hard facts with statistical analysis on how this is impacting their business, and what it is they should do; while others may be open to case studies which can trigger a strong personal response.

Another solution could be for men and women to be part of a gender equality group led by a "Manbassador". A group which champions for a better understanding of gender equality and gender dynamics through hosting events such as workshops run by specialists. Workshops use role modelling of inclusive behaviours which can inspire other men to act too. ‘Often men have the awareness, but not the confidence to act’ and I think the same goes for women. Some groups take it a step further and ask members to make a pledge to "proactively engage" in conversations about gender differences in their workplace and home life.

Men play a crucial role in championing gender equality and together we can close the gap by all learning more about the subject, hosting events, workshops and championing change. We don’t want all the advancements in society and polices since 1867 - that marked the start of the suffragette movement and campaigning by male politicians to change government policy text from 'he' to 'persons' to reach a plateau in our first world country.

So today on #INWED17 I ask you to take a pledge that you will learn something new about gender equality, and see how you can make a difference. After all, at its core, gender equality is a human right.

This blog originally appeared as an opinion piece in Infrastructure Intelligence.

Athena Livesey

Athena Livesey

Principle Engineering Geologist

Athena is an engineering geologist at WSP and chair of the ACE Progress Network.

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