Africa|Business|Consulting|Consulting Engineers|Design|Engineering|Projects|Solutions
Africa|Business|Consulting|Consulting Engineers|Design|Engineering|Projects|Solutions

Industry needs to address challenges to retain female engineers

An image of Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa) board member Naomi Naidoo

NAOMI NAIDOO Unconscious biases are changing, as people become more aware and accepting of women in the industry

6th April 2023

By: Nadine Ramdass

Creamer Media Writer


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While there have been changes in the consulting engineers industry to drive more inclusivity and diversity, the industry still struggles to retain female workers.

Women encounter challenges, such as unconscious bias, a lack of workplace flexibility, unclear promotion paths and limited roles for women, says Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa) board member Naomi Naidoo.

Unconscious bias occurs when female engineers are often expected to take on specific tasks that are regarded as more suitable for women, she explains.

“In some instances, women are given tasks or projects that enhance softer skills instead of getting into technical challenges. These can be damaging, especially when trying to become professionally registered or marketable,” adds Cesa Young Professionals Forum national chairperson Renee Petersen.

In some cases, female engineers are not taken as seriously as their male colleagues.

However, Naidoo notes these unconscious biases are noticeably changing, as people become more aware and accepting of women in the industry.

Female engineers also encounter challenges regarding workplace flexibility.

Despite many organisations incorporating workplace polices to support flexible hours for women, organisations often still look down on women who do not work regular or standard work hours to honour family commitments.

“Women are viewed as doing less work, although work hours are generally covered at alternate hours and deadlines are still met,” says Naidoo.

Additionally, many managers often view pregnancy as a disruption to resource planning, despite company polices allowing for maternity leave.

This results in women being portrayed in a negative light when reporting to senior management, thus affecting promotions, increases and other growth opportunities.

Further, many female engineers express frustration at the lack of clear promotion paths in their organisations, says Naidoo.

Often, male colleagues who are less qualified and less experienced are promoted; a common response to this is that the male engineer is better suited to the role because of his interaction with male clients or gender- based similarities with the client.

Petersen notes that the face of the engineering industry is changing, and that the industry has evolved, resulting in new roles becoming available as the business develops.

Women are also becoming more vocal about disparities and are stepping up to mentor young female engineering professionals to effect change.

However, there are a limited number of senior women in the industry, which can be discouraging to younger females trying to navigate a career through a previously male-dominated industry.

Therefore, there are limited female mentors to support and guide young women through difficult situations that may be applicable only to women.

Naidoo says the isolation that women experience in the consulting engineers industry may possibly be one of the biggest contributors to their exiting the industry.

Unique Advantages
Despite the male-dominated industry, women offer advantages – such as inclusivity and playing a vital role in developing solutions that benefit society –on projects that male engineers do not.

“We think differently because we experience the world through a different lens. The projects we design influence and impact [on] societies, and thinking about designs from a different perspective enhances engineering concepts,” Petersen elaborates.

Naidoo adds that women comprises about 50% of the world’s population; therefore, the female perspective is pivotal in developing solutions that consider the female perspective and experiences.


Edited by Zandile Mavuso
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor: Features



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