It’s been seven years since Vici went back to work after taking maternity leave. As one of only 9% of female engineers in the UK, she had high hopes of progression. But was this the case?
Often it seems in today’s society, that we can’t listen to the news, or open the discarded newspapers strewn across the seats of the tube, without seeing stories about the gender pay gap.
Well-meaning executives are trying to make us believe that the pay gap is a thing of the past, but engineer, Vici Hadfield knows otherwise.
Vici has a young daughter, Imogen: “she’s only eight and she’s still fully reliant on me. So whilst I’m at this stage, basically since I went back to work seven years ago, I’m just going to be here.
“Nothing is going to happen to my career, nothing is going to happen to my pay except the standard percentage inflation rate that we get every year. Whereas everyone else has the opportunity to go and progress as much as they want.”
The gender pay gap revelations may have had a positive impact in Hollywood and for those females working at the BBC, where Carrie Gracie’s resignation as China editor led to mass exposure of the public broadcaster’s glaringly obvious pay gap.
But for women in industries such as engineering where they are notoriously male dominated, many feel that nothing is going to change.
April 4, 2017 was a historic day in the bid towards closing the gender pay gap. For the first time, organisations with 250 or more employees legally had to publish and report specific figures about their gap.
The gender pay gap is the difference between the average earnings of men and women, expressed relative to men’s earnings. Currently, the industry median pay gap is 18.4%.
There is a common misconception that the pay gap means females are being paid less than males for doing the same job. This is illegal. Alternatively, the gap is largely as a result of companies having more males in senior positions being paid more, whereas females tend to fill more of the junior or part-time roles because of factors such as maternity leave.
Anne Keogh, Head of External Relations at Siemens PLC explained that out of the 15,000 people in Siemens UK, 79% are men, and if you look at a higher level, 88% of those senior positions are taken by men.
“80% of the line managers at Siemens have gone through unconscious bias training because what we have realised, is that people are hiring ‘mini-me’s’ and they are rewarding people that are similar to them. So because we’ve got a very male dominated environment, that is just going to be perpetuated.”
Dawn Bonfield MBE, immediate past president of the Women’s Engineering Society, highlighted some metrics, that she and the Women’s Business Council are working on. These will measure the gap in recruitment, progression and retention so that there is a better picture under that headline figure.
“If you decide that you do not have enough women in your industry and you bring them all in at the very bottom level, then that’s actually going to make your overall number worse, because the women that you do have are all the lowest paid. So even though you’re moving in the right direction, it’s not always going to have the desired effect on the pay gap. That’s why the metrics underneath are very important.”
The issue of gender stereotyping within this sector also has a huge impact on the gender pay gap.
Victoria Martin, board member of the Institution of Structural Engineers was very defiant as she stated:
“One of the main issues is the pipeline. We employ people who have come through the education system and often by the time they get to that point, a lot of the damage is already done. That is part of a bigger societal issue that we need to collectively focus on. It’s getting better, but I think family members and parents have a huge influence on their daughters, which skews how girls think from a very young age.”
Only 8% of young people who started a STEM apprenticeship in 2016 were female, this shows that a lot more needs to be done to attract women as the selection pool of female talent is so small.
A small pool of females to choose from means that, when senior management positions do become available for example, there are a very small number of female applicants, or none at all because they do not feel that they are qualified enough for the role.
Victoria argues that we need to get away from this culture of presenteeism:
“I work part-time and I’m still operating at a senior level. Just because you’re not working 60 hours a week, that doesn’t mean you’re not incredibly good at what you do. I think the business culture needs to change to be more supportive.”
So will we ever close the pay gap?
Vici sighed: “I think that there are a lot of companies that really just don’t care, and it’s one of those things that comes around as a topic, gets discussed and then gets forgotten about.”
But times are changing. More girls are pursuing careers in the STEM sector than ever before and now that companies legally having to annually post their gap figures, this means that society can hold them accountable.
However, the overwhelming consensus is that it will take a considerable amount of time to even come close to closing the gap in this sector because of the remaining stereotypes and the lack of females applying for senior positions.
We need to be patient so that we can see the fruition of the young girls interested in engineering as they grow up and infiltrate into the sector to see what impact it has.
Dawn argues that the process for change, needs to start young: “The story that we need to be saying is that, the bigger the pay gap, the more potential there is in those types of careers to earn more because they are the ones that are obviously higher paid and the ones that men go into more often than women.”