The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘embrace equity’, and I’ve been reflecting on how traditional ‘male’ industries must grapple with how they are addressing changes in order to build a diverse workforce for the future.
As Director of Aura, I work with the renewables and offshore wind industries, who are working on innovative technologies to meet the net zero targets we have set ourselves. Having spent a big part of my career in a more traditional and male dominated industry, I’m delighted that the newer industries see the need for innovation in the workforce, as well as in technology. Although progress has been made, I see how far we still have to go in getting girls and women to consider a career in traditionally male-dominated industries.
Between now and 2030, there are going to be over 100,000 jobs created in offshore wind alone. And yet at the moment, only 18% of the jobs in this sector are held by women. There’s a huge opportunity for women to be involved in this exciting and revolutionary industry, but the perception is that it’s a ‘job for men’.
Some of this can be traced back to our school days. Industries traditionally seen as ‘not for women’ are often those that involve science, technology, engineering and maths.
Despite the fact that girls represent 50% of GCSE entrants in STEM subjects, this plummets to just 35% for post-16 studies, and then decreases even further as girls progress through the educational system and into careers.
But that isn’t the full story. I wonder why girls and women are put off by jobs that are perceived as ‘technical’. With girls being just as numerate as boys, why don’t they then go on to imagine themselves using STEM skills as part of their careers? There are also lots of jobs within traditional industry that don’t involve STEM skill requirements – for example, human resources, marketing, and finance – and yet the numbers of women in these roles are still low, and we are under-represented. People in these roles can have a huge influence on the strategy and operation of their organization.
Traditional approaches to encouraging women into the industries are not working – or, if they are, they’re not working quickly enough. We need a new mindset if we’re to help make all industries equally attractive to everyone. We need to tell girls and women a different story.
I was recently involved with the Turning The Tide project, where we are trying to do just that. We are combining science and the arts – in this case, dance and music – to produce a beautiful short film and exhibition which explores the role of women in the renewable energy industry through choreography and performance. With this new green, revolutionary industry right here on our shores of the Humber, it’s vital that women and girls see the opportunities to be a part of it and influence it. Even those without a STEM background can bring their skills of creativity, collaboration and imagination, without which it’s impossible to innovate. Using different methods and narratives like the Turning The Tide project can succeed where other conventional strategies fail.
Another thing we need to focus on is making sure businesses attract and retain women leaders. Too often, women are discouraged from applying for management positions, or hit a ‘glass ceiling’ and don’t get to the most senior roles. As part of the Humber Women in the Workforce project, the University of Hull is running free Women Leadership Accelerator courses, allowing women who are looking at moving into management positions to develop their leadership style, and providing knowledge of management skills and techniques.
We know there’s a huge appetite out there for more action and discussion on these important topics in our area, so we’re planning to run a conference and workshops around the issues of women in the workplace during Humber Business Week 2023 in June. Keep an eye on the events page of our website, where we’ll announce more details nearer the time.
There are lots of individuals and organisations out there who are passionate about diversity, equality and inclusion, so my message this International Women’s Day is to have hope, keep working towards your goals, and make sure you and all those around you embrace equity to help make our businesses and teams stronger than ever before. We, women, represent half the population, so we need to be present in the workforce, influencing and changing it.