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How to Attract More Women into Engineering in Singapore

Posted on July 2020

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We need to do more to attract and keep women in engineering roles. In Singapore, the majority of tertiary education graduates are female (53%). However, the intake of women in STEM degrees account for around 25 per cent of the total intake for engineering degrees, according to statics from the Ministry of Education.

Why are less women drawn to pursue engineering? One suggestion: they are less competitive.

Researchers from the Ministry of Manpower and the National University of Singapore suggest that gender differences in psychological traits contribute to gender occupational segregation. They argue that women are generally more risk averse and less competitive than men, which affects the “choice of field of study, which in turn affects future career choice.” The report cites a study from the Netherlands that found even after accounting for grades, perceived mathematical ability and socioeconomic background, gender differences in competitive can account for 20% of their subject choice.

However, a study by Muriel Niederle, a professor at Stanford, and Lise Vesterlund found that women were much less confident in their abilities, and this caused them to shy away from situations in which they would have to compete with others.

One way to combat this is to give women more encouragement. Among STEM subjects, engineering continues to have one of the highest rate of attrition and women have a higher turnover than men. Several reasons have been posed for this, including an inflexible and demanding work environment that made work-family balance difficult and stigma consciousness.

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Attracting and keeping women in engineering

Kayleigh Regan, Team Lead - Forensics, Claims, Water & Transportation of LVI Associates, APAC, agrees that engineering firms need to do more to attract and nurture female talent. Recognition of the strategic importance of gender diversity is growing, but many qualified female applicants are dropping out of the recruitment process, according to a recent report by DSJ Global. 41% of respondents were from an engineering, manufacturing, transport or logistics background.

“Looking at the results of the survey, the most common reasons that women gave for withdrawing from the recruitment process are gender-biased comments made by the hiring manager and gender-biased language in job descriptions,” says Kayleigh Regan. “In a candidate-driven market, employers cannot afford for qualified applicants to withdraw. They need to ensure that they are presenting themselves as an inclusive company at every stage, so they should invest in giving all employees unconscious bias training.”

The report also highlighted that 55% of engineering respondents said the main challenge to increasing gender diversity were gender-biased cultural values, leadership orientation and behaviours. That is where recruiters can really add value to job seekers and hiring employers, suggests Kayleigh Regan.

“As a talent partner, recruiters can help dispel untrue market rumours and reassure candidates that the hiring company is a fair employer that only evaluates based on merit. If a candidate has had a negative experience in the past, we can also advice on how hiring managers should engage with them in a productive way,” says Kayleigh Regan. “In an extreme scenario, recruiters can also be an objective whistle blower by communicating bad behaviours from hiring managers or interviewers to their management, so that the employer can be in a better position to decide the best course of action.”

As Singapore continues its push to becoming a Smart Nation, it will need the equal participation of women to get there. Understanding why women exit from the recruitment process is the first step. Download our complimentary report that takes a deep dive into the engineering, manufacturing, transport and logistics responses from Why Women Withdraw from the Recruitment Process.

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