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At CDNLive EMEA, there was a Women's track and the first presentation was by Elizabeth Donnelly, the CEO of the Women's Engineering Society (of the UK), titled 12% Is Not Enough, Changing Industry to Support Women in Engineering. I should emphasize that all the data in the presentation (and this post) are about the UK and if you are somewhere else, the details may be different. For example, the 12% number in the title is apparently the lowest percentage in Europe. So what is that 12% number?
The 12% refers to the fact that in the UK there are 6.1M engineering jobs but only 755K are held by women, which is 12.4%. She divided that up into engineers in engineering where 4.2M of the jobs are but only 416K women (9.7%) and engineers in other sectors, where 1.8M jobs are with 340K women (18.5%). Starting salaries for electronics and electronic engineering graduates are the same, with £25,991 female and £26,033 male, a difference of less than £1 per week.
In the UK, at the end of high school, pupils take external exams (not graded by their school) known as A-levels. They are graded A*, A, B, C, D, E, and U (tactfully described as "below the minimum standard required for a grade E"). It turns out that in maths (yes, in England maths is plural), girls do better than boys, with 81.4% of girls getting A*-C but only 80.3% of boys. Even in the further maths A-level, which is a very self-selected group (of which I was a member many years ago: my A-levels were in physics, mathematics, and further mathematics), 88.3% of girls score A*-C compared to 87.9% of boys. Actually, these percentages seem surprisingly low to me—if you are going to do "double maths" then you really should be getting a top grade in both maths A-levels, or you really should be studying something else. In fact, at least in my day, they took all the candidates for further mathematics out of the statistics for plain old mathematics, on the basis they should all be getting an A* anyway. Anyway, if we take maths A-level as a surrogate for engineering ability, girls are slightly ahead of the boys (they are even more ahead in most subjects).
So why aren't there more women in engineering? Let me start by pointing out that I don't regard this as a moral crisis of some sort. If women prefer to do other things, then that's fine. We don't worry about why there are not more women lumberjacks (or more male psychologists for that matter). But in engineering in general, and the semiconductor ecosystem in particular, we have a shortage of engineers period. If we can make changes to make our engineering organizations more attractive to women, that enlarges the pool, so it makes sense from a purely self-interested point of view. SEMI, for example, has a Workforce Development Program to attract young men and women into engineering in general and the semiconductor industry in particular, and a Spotlight on SEMI Women.
It seems that a lot of ads inadvertently put off women from applying by using masculine-coded words versus feminine-coded words:
One reaction to that would simply be for women not to be put off by words like "leadership" but it seems women are socialized to "follow the rules" and will not apply to jobs where they don't feel that they satisfy 100% of the requirements for the job, whereas men will apply even if they lack some. When I've looked at job ads, it seems that the only people who would tick all the boxes are likely to be people with so much experience in the area that they are over-qualified.
Elizabeth's bottom line about all this is:
So what do we need to do differently?
Neutralize job applications: The ad above for a hardware modeling engineer at Arm is strongly feminine-coded. because women follow the rules,
Remove "essential criteria" and use things like "if you meet at least three of the criteria." She also says "be transparent about pay" which is pretty meaningless in the US since ads almost never say anything explicit about pay, beyond words like "competitive".
Change the culture: More senior women on the board and in the workplace, create a women's network, no interruptions in meetings, acknowledge women's ideas.
Flexible working, and not just for mothers: Trust employees, measure outcomes not hours, big teams support returners...for men, too.
Change the story: We say, “you need a strong aptitude for maths and science” but we could say, “engineers save more lives than doctors”.
Some of these recommendations seem similar to changes in recruiting millennials of either sex. For my discussion of that, see my post Why Millennial Engineers Should Work for Cadence.
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