How to get more women into male-dominated sectors

An All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work session yesterday focused on how to get more women into male-dominated sectors.

Woman Graduate Pofessor


How can women break through and succeed in male-dominated sectors? The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work heard yesterday that a variety of strategies are needed and that the problem begins early.

Professor Ijeoma Uchegbu, Professor of Pharmaceutical Nanoscience at UCL, outlined the double discrimination faced by Black women in academia.

She said that just 0.7% of UK professors are Black compared to 4% of the UK population. Forty six per cent of UK academics are female, but just 0.2% are Black and female. Ethnic minority female academics are less likely to be promoted, take decisions and do high impact research, said Professor Uchegbu, because of structural barriers to their progression.

She said the problems start at school. Similar percentages of Black and white pupils pass their Sats, with higher levels of Indian and Chinese students surpassing those percentages. By the end of secondary school, however, only 5% of Black British students get 3 As at A Level compared to 11% of white students, 24% of Chinese students and 14% of Indian students. At degree level the gap widens: 79% of white British students get a degree, compared to 72% of Chinese students, 71% of Indian students and just 51% of Black students. At a higher level still, Black students are less likely to be principal investigators on research projects, said Professor Uchegbu.

She stated: “Everyone who wants to do research should be able to do it. That way research will be better.” She called for a race equality strategy for the whole education sector and for school heads to be rewarded for eliminating gaps between different groups when it comes to exam results. UCL has signed up to the Race Equality Charter, organised annual roadshows to highlight diversity and inclusion issues to university leaders, holds candid conversations about race and has acted to remove eugenicists’ names from the university. It also has a Centre for the Study of Race and Racism headed by Professor Paul Gilroy.

Professor Uchegbu said research shows that greater ethnic diversity in teams and at leadership levels improves decision-making.


Sandi Rhys-Jones, Public Affairs and Mentoring Lead for the Association of Women in Property and Vice President of the Chartered Institute of Building, spoke about another male-dominated industry: construction. She said that, although there has been progress for women in construction, there is much further to go. She added that many who are in the industry found themselves there by accident and said there is not much information about their paths into the industry.

Only around 15% of the workforce is female on average, with just 2% of on-site workers being women – which is a slight improvement on what it used to be. Less than 6% of workers are from BAME communities or have a disability. Sixty per cent of LGBTQ+ workers have been subjected to derogatory remarks on site. Suicide rates for construction workers are 3.7 times higher than the national average. There is room for improvement across the board, said Rhys-Jones, adding that change would help everyone.

That change could involve extending apprenticeships to older workers. Rhys-Jones said the average age women looked to join the industry was 35, but apprenticeships are not geared towards that. She added that there have been some successes, including more women being at the top of professional organisations. However, the vast majority did not come up through the ranks, but ran their own business and had more flexibility to manage their working lives. The industry needs to ask why, she said.

Her association has a mentoring scheme which matches people with others in the industry who are doing different jobs in order to expand their experience of the sector. It also runs a student awards programme to identify high-achieving students. However, Rhys-Jones said more needs to be done to bridge the “pay chasm” and address the leaky pipeline.

She is optimistic, however, mainly because the skills shortage means the industry needs women. It needs 217,000 people by 2025. Thirty five per cent of workers are over 50 and only 10 per cent are under 25. “That focuses the mind,” said Rhys-Jones, who also called for more to be done on childcare, for more joined-up policy and leadership from central government and for a focus on diversity and inclusion within strategies for dealing with the skills shortage.

Financial services and nuclear energy

Other speakers included Caroline Emch, Director of Government Affairs EMEA at American Express, who spoke of the problems facing women in the financial services sector and the need for multiple initiatives targeting recruitment, retention and developing talent, such as looking at the language used in job descriptions, widening the criteria for graduate recruits, removing the stigma around women being ambitious and tying compensation to delivery of gender pay goals. Emch also highlighted how American Express had made progress towards gender equity.

Jillian Partington, International Marketing & Communications Manager, Assystem, spoke of the issues facing women in the highly specialist nuclear energy sector and the need for the industry to broaden the talent pool it is fishing from. In recognition of this, Assystem has, for instance, launched a new technical graduate scheme as a more equitable route into the business. It is open to those with broader STEM qualifications and offers robust training on the job. It aims to increase the number of women in the business by 100 by 2025. Other changes include introducing policies aimed at providing greater work life balance, a better maternity policy and a mentoring scheme.



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