At a time when the country’s energy mix is becoming more varied and diverse, what is holding back women in our industry? Nico Van der Merwe, vice president home and distribution at Schneider Electric explores

here are many exceptional female electrical engineers out there, but

they remain a minority in what is a male-dominated environment. In the UK there is only one female in every 1,000 electrical contractors, and there has been little upwards movement for decades. In nature, no closed system can

prosper. The continued success of the electrical industry depends on a diversity of ideas, skill sets and interests. While many in the UK struggle to find the services they need due to a shortage of skilled tradespeople, there is no excuse for women to be excluded. It is in the interests of both electrical contracting businesses and the country at large to encourage more women to get involved.

JOBS FOR THE BOYS? It’s fair to say that there’s a common stigma in our sector that certain jobs are only suitable for men or women. Gender stereotyping sadly persists to this day. It rears its head during site visits, in conversations with customers and in interactions with suppliers. Female electrical engineers have typically had to work harder to prove themselves and show their technical skills are equally as good as their male colleagues. To drive change and encourage more

women to get involved, companies should develop and adopt new standards for competency and leadership evaluation. Women are no less suited to the job than men. Female-typed traits such as priority-setting, delegating, growing talent, collaborating, and communicating through complex layers with customers are great assets to have in any electrical contracting business. Physical strength does matter of

course. Working with medium and light voltage equipment requires a healthy physique. Electricians require a certain amount of fitness and strength to carry heavy equipment, ground enclosures and charge circuit breakers. Yet, this does not preclude women from doing the job and it certainly has not prevented many from being successful in the industry. A far more important part of the job is

technical knowledge and the ability to deal with customers. Electrical engineers often come across customers or clients with no

technical background. Technical questions are bound to come up, and trying to explain an electrician’s work in layman’s terms is no easy task. Aside from physicality, communication skills are vital to provide excellent client service. In the end, taking a closer look at

organisational and social barriers is helpful for understanding the current state of female participation in the industry. To reap the rewards of female involvement, contracting businesses should be willing to invest in programmes and a workplace culture that enable female electricians to perform at their best. Women, in turn, will add value to the business by bringing in diverse perspectives and skill sets.

ANYTHING YOU CAN DO… To change the gender makeup of our industry, we will first need to change minds. Assumptions and stereotypes are more deeply rooted than any legacy technology. Making progress will take time and education, but to have any appreciable impact it is important to start at the source. This is not to accuse existing

contractors or customers, but to call out the expectations that society places on young women and how it impacts their own thinking. A 2017 Certsure survey showed that 82 per cent of joint industry board members would be happy if their daughter became an electrician. However, only eight per cent of these daughters had actually considered becoming one. Attitudes are changing but clearly not

enough is being done to encourage young women to pursue a career in the electrical industry. At the same time, perceptions of


what represents a ‘worthwhile’ or ‘suitable’ job for a woman is likely putting many off. Until we address these issues, young women will continue to limit their career options and potential. Perhaps the most crucial place to

intervene is in education. Over three- quarters (77 per cent) of parents and guardians feel their daughters are not given information about trades, and 87 per cent claim there is a lack of encouragement at school. Aspiring to university is a noble goal,

but it should not be considered the default option for students. Apprenticeships in the electrical industry provide great opportunities and hands-on experience that is hard to find elsewhere. While it will be difficult to achieve when so much importance is placed on university league tables, we need to push schools to properly educate our kids on all the options available. Simultaneously, we must also fight the

impression that the electrical industry is a man’s world. A career as an electrician can be exciting, sociable and, above all, rewarding. We can always talk to our children about how lucrative it can be, but is that what is most important to them at that age? To improve the industry’s reputation and encourage more young girls to take an interest, we need to be better at explaining to our kids that being an electrician is fun. Fundamentally, male or female, what

a person needs to be a successful electrical engineer remains the same – determination, professionalism and the will to succeed.

Schneider Electric


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