RETURN: Project for Professional Engineering Institutions

The Women’s Engineering Society, along with TRS, Prospect and Women in Glass have recently been surveying women in STEM through a survey aimed at getting some more evidence around the topic of retention of women in engineering, and what we might collectively be able to do to bring more women back into the sector after a career break. Women in STEM: Are you IN or OUT?

The survey ran from May to September 2014 and received over 5000 responses. Results show a number of interesting findings. For example, 60% of women found that there were barriers which prevented them returning to careers in STEM after a career break, and 43% of these women stated that some sort of training or development would help them to overcome these barriers (with 12% of these stating that sector specific training would be useful). 14% stated that more flexible working hours – in particular in managerial roles – would be beneficial (shared maternity/paternity leave, job sharing, part time hours or condensed hours), and 17% said that better careers advice and a bespoke matching service would help them to return.

In terms of membership of Professional Institutions, a huge 46% of respondents were not members of a Professional Institution.

This has prompted us to put together this proposal for further work.
We feel that some further analysis is required around the subject of career breaks within Professional Institutions, and some best practices could be identified.
The project would fall into the following sections:

  • Phase One: The Current Picture
  • Phase Two: Identification of Best Practices and Identification of Mechanisms of Support
  • Phase Three: Pilot with one of the Professional Engineering Institutions
  • Phase Four: Reporting

Phase One: The Current Picture
The questions that we will be asking in order to get a snapshot of the current picture within the Professional Institutions will include:

  • Do all Institutions offer reduced fees for their members who are taking career breaks? How are these reductions communicated to members and what proportion of women and what proportion of men take these up?
  • Of those members who take career breaks, how many return to full membership after the career break finishes and how many terminate their membership during their career break?
  • How is Continued Professional Development organised for those members on a career break, and are there currently any specific products or services available to support members who are on breaks or when they wish to return?
  • What other barriers exist linked to professional registration that are preventing members from returning to careers in engineering? (e.g. cost of professional qualification, cost of re-accreditation, lapse of professional status such as chartership)

The responses to these questions will give us a good picture of the current landscape with respect to members and career breaks, and give us a baseline from which to make improvements and recommendations.

Download the questionnaire here. To be completed by 10 April and returned to Dawn Bonfield.

Phase Two:  Best Practices and Support Mechanisms

Based on the responses in Phase one, we next propose to make some recommendations of improvements to the situation by looking at the following areas. This will be done through a workshop session at the WES conference on 23 June with the theme of Women Returners where we propose to bring together representatives from the Professional Engineering Institutions.

  • How should we be keeping in touch with members who are on career breaks, and could we maintain links with this community even beyond the point that they let their professional membership lapse.
  • What training or mentoring can be provided to help members on career breaks return to work in the engineering sector? Are these training opportunities currently available? Is the provision available nationally? What is the cost? Is it accessible? Is there anything missing or can any improvements be suggested?
  • Can the Benevolent funds of Institutions be made available to help members on career breaks?
  • How can we make use of these members who are in a very advantageous position in terms of the links they have with schools and young people in order to encourage them to pass on their skills to the next generation?
  • What other ways could we help improve the prospects of getting these women back from career break into the engineering sector? Could we help with a career matching service to put companies in touch with this community of returning engineers?

As an example, we found during National Women in Engineering Day in 2014 that many women took the opportunity to go into their local schools to talk to the students about their careers, or to carry out practical STEM related activities. This was done without any specific encouragement or support. With a bit of co-ordination, encouragement and training we could actively support this type of activity and utilise the valuable resource that these members represent. This would have many advantages, including:

  • Building links between (women) engineers, engineering companies and their local schools
  • Maintaining the confidence of engineers during maternity leave/career break
  • Communicating the advantages of careers in engineering to youngsters, where these engineers would act as role models to both the students and the parents
  • Allowing members to retain a valuable link to their profession whilst on a career break
  • Facilitating members’ return to the engineering sector after a career break
  • Retaining membership of their professional institution and consequently more likely to remain engaged with the engineering sector

Phase Three: Pilot with a Professional Engineering Institution
Best practices and recommendations would then be identified which would focus on:

1.    Identification and tracking of members
2.    Training opportunities (identification of types of training, delivery mechanisms, and potential for sharing this training across the PEIs, including mentoring)
3.    Support mechanisms (financial, communication, job searching)
4.    Advantages and benefits of undertaking this activity
Phase Three: Pilot with a Professional Engineering Institution

During phases one and two we would identify at least one Professional Engineering Institution who is willing to improve the service provision it offers to its members on career breaks. We will then continue to collaborate with these Institution to support their work in putting into practice the recommendations that we set out in Phase Two, on a pilot basis, and to identify and resolve some of the barriers that arise during the implementation. If we can work with more than one institution then we can get different PEIs to pilot different best practices.

Phase Four: Reporting
A report documenting the findings of the project and its implications to the Professional Institutions will be compiled at the end of the project, giving the best practices that have been identified and how these have successfully been implemented in practice. The final report can be downloaded here.

We are proposing a programme of work which will assess the number of Professional Engineering Institution members who are on maternity leave or other career breaks, look at ways to support them with the help of specific products, services, training or financial support, and pilot some best practice mechanisms with a chosen Professional Engineering Institution. The objective of this work is to maximise the chances of members returning to the engineering sector after career breaks, and maintaining their professional registration, and acting as ambassadors for the engineering profession within their local communities.

This project will be delivered by a member of the WES project team and will use the RAEng Diversity Concordat members as partners in its communication and delivery.

March 2015
Contact WES CEO for further details.