Earlier this month, Engineers Australia (EA) and WSP hosted an event, Engineering – A Profession for All, to discuss gender balance in the engineering profession.

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The lunch was chaired by Guy Templeton, WSP President and CEO for Australia and New Zealand, who remarked on the overwhelming turnout during an uncertain time.

 

“When you hold a function of any kind you normally end up with people dropping out at the last minute. Then when you call a global pandemic you’d expect that number to drop further but the waiters are still bringing out more chairs and place settings,” Guy said. “This truly shows the passion people have for this subject!”

 

An opening address from Dr Bronwyn Evans, CEO, Engineers Australia, kicked off the proceedings with Bronwyn speaking passionately about gender diversity in the industry, and the very real challenges of attracting and retaining women in engineering. Challenges that begin in the classroom with the very low number of girls taking subjects like advanced maths and physics.

 

She spoke of practical ways to reposition the whole STEM sector to make it more appealing for young girls, one of which was to rebrand it as a creative pursuit.

 

“There’s an engineer in every kid,”  Bronwyn said. “Once they start forming words the third word they learn after mum and dad is ‘why?’“

 

She also touched on the important part male role models must play in the development of a well-balanced workforce.

 

“When I was a 25-year-old engineer with the Electricity Commission, there was a construction line job going. I didn’t have a driver’s licence I cycled everywhere, but the senior engineer at that site said ‘I want you to lead that construction job’.

 

“He took a chance on me. Male role models are important.”

 

Alex McDonald, WSP’s Regional Executive for Environment Planning and Stakeholder Engagement in NSW/ACT, remarked that more men need to be hearing these stories in order to become champions of change.

 

“The message definitely resonated with me and my client, who said to me afterwards that she is regularly the only female in meetings at her work and has never had a female above her in her line-management” said Alex.

 

“I was also encouraged to hear how EA is engaging with the NSW Education Department as I am looking at high schools for my daughter for next year and am keen to see how the schools that we are considering are focusing on STEM, in case she wants to follow that path.”

 

EA strongly believes it’s never too early for a student to learn and apply themselves to the goal of attending university for an engineering degree.

 

According to Bronwyn, one of their top priorities is to provide a third point of inspiration and direction for future engineers, backing the efforts of their studies and the support of their families and schools. Regardless of gender.

 

There’s an engineer in every kid.
Dr Bronwyn Evans CEO, Engineers Australia

 

Practical Actions for Real Results

 

As lunch was served, Guy took the stage to talk about steps WSP have taken to improve gender balance such as regularly conducting women-only talent reviews to identify, and advocate for, successors for key roles.

 

“We thought that our female-only talent pipeline review would be done in one meeting. It took four meetings as the leadership team was so engaged. That, plus putting in the cash necessary to achieve like-for-like pay across males and females each year, have had a big impact,” says Guy.

 

Through such actions we’ve seen increased representation of women in leadership positions and achieved the WGEA Employer of Choice citation for the first time in 2019 and for a second consecutive time this year.

 

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Food for Thought

Candice Mesecke, Group Manager Learning and Development, Downer, joined Bronwyn and Guy for a Q&A segment to finish off the afternoon. Over dessert, the audience asked the panellists some tough questions and observations to meditate on.

 

Jessica Qiu, EA Sydney Division Committee President, was in attendance and like Alex felt that many of the important points being discussed would be of great interest to the men in the industry at large.

 

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