Inspiring the next generation of female talent into a STEM career and empowering women into leadership within Equans

International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) remains a key date in Equans’ calendar. An annual awareness campaign that celebrates women engineers and their achievements, INWED also acts as a firm reminder of the historic systemic underrepresentation of women and girls in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) and, therefore, how critical it is to encourage girls to study STEM subjects and consider a career in engineering.

Currently, there are fewer women than men who choose to study the subjects at further education, correlating to a later gender imbalance within the industries these fields represent [AAUW, 2022]. The potential reasons for this are myriad and complex, ranging from a lack of encouragement, gender bias, and perceptions of a male-dominated built environment sector that are rapidly becoming outdated.  

At Equans UK & Ireland, we recognise the important role it plays in changing these perceptions, combatting stereotypes and fundamentally, inspiring girls and women to enter the ever-evolving built environment sector. By promoting the vast opportunities available to younger generations and demonstrating how the business is committed to attracting, developing and caring for its people to ensure equal access to all opportunities, Equans is tackling these challenges head-on through a variety of initiatives.

A fundamental part of Equans’ efforts to greater gender representation is their WOMEN Together network. As the first employee-led network to provide a platform for employees to collaborate and progress outcomes for females in the business, Equans now has seven networks representing employee groups, and WOMEN Together continues to be a cornerstone of the business’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) strategy to enable a workplace culture where everyone can be themselves and achieve their potential.

Launched in 2021 by its WOMEN Together network and supported by the company’s social value teams, Equans’ in-house award-winning STEM outreach programme for girls, the ‘Girls Believe Academy’ (GBA), continues to expand with more Ambassadors and school partnerships. The initiative that raises awareness of the industry and promotes technology, construction and engineering prospects to female pupils, embodies the company’s firm belief that girls and young women should have equal access to all industries and sectors.   

Armed with the knowledge that women make up only around 16.5% of the engineering workforce today, Equans’ GBA Ambassadors introduce female students from an early age to the built environment sector, showcasing the different routes to entry and helping them understand how their individual skill sets and ambitions would be valued within the industry.   

With over 30 school partnerships and 85 Ambassadors since its launch, the Girls Believe Academy has inspired over 4,500 students to consider a career in engineering. However, it has evolved to go beyond the classroom doors, having delivered work experience to a selection of female students with further opportunities in the pipeline over the coming months.

As we know, gender balance is an ongoing issue faced by the industry, and within Equans, the business is taking positive steps to increase the number of womenin management roles through its pioneering initiative: Equans’ Women in Leadership Programme. Supporting Equans’ DE&I vision and mission to create a fair and inclusive workplace, Equans’ 18-month programme enables the business to develop its female talent whilst simultaneously creating a safe space for them to build their confidence, and drive career development through targeted leadership development. Developed in partnership with the company’s WOMEN Together network and its Learning & Development talent team, this blended learning approach has had a positive impact with 95 women across two cohorts so far since its launch in 2022. Feeding into the future talent pipelines, the training is helping to retain more internal talent – with circa 20% of women on the programme having already received promotions – and has attracted more external candidates.

The programme also encourages proactive career progression through exposure and opportunities with each delegate receiving a senior mentor. Measured internal impact has revealed that 100% of participants agree that the programme has increased their confidence, skills and knowledge, and that improvements in Equans’ gender pay gap figures and an increase in representation of women in senior management has been achieved. Additionally, since the programme’s creation, there has been a 9% increase in female new starters.

Thanks to Equans’ WOMEN Together network and the commitment of the business to develop females within the built environment, these initiatives are empowering women to promote the industry and progress their careers. With the overarching purpose being to retain and attract female talent, Equans is leading by example.

Amelle Mestari, Procurement and CSR Director, and Co-chair of the WOMEN Together network, at Equans UK & Ireland, said: “Equans is in a strong position to empower positive change when it comes to gender balance, and we are already making good headway with the initiatives we have in place. However, the industry must be joined up in its approach, taking action to not only mitigate the skills gap, but creating a diverse industry that entices the next generation of female talent to join and thrive in. We are shifting the dial and the proof is in the impact our initiatives are having across the business and externally.”

Shahid Bashir, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Equans UK & Ireland, concluded: “Achieving gender parity, requires a holistic approach to enable female employees to overcome barriers at key stages of the talent journey, including both structural and behavioural changes, whilst raising awareness for all employees on how to shape an inclusive culture. These interventions must be backed by senior leadership support, accountability and be steered by the perspectives and experiences of women in the business, which we do through our WOMEN Together network.”

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