Re-engineering the return to work

Engineers Australia supports the increase diversity within the engineering profession and is actively working with industry to encourage positive change.
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Increasing the participation of females in the engineering community is part of Engineers Australia’s goal to achieve impactful leadership.

In the 2020-23 strategy, Engineers Australia outlined its action plan to provide leadership, increase diversity of the profession and adapt a national approach for registration.

As part of the initiative to increase female participation, Sydney Division General Manager Greg Ewing was appointed a Male Champion of Change to work with businesses and universities in Sydney.

Male Champions of Change, as part of the Champions of Change Coalition, work to lead initiatives that support gender equality and identify practice, constructive and disruptive actions to increase equality.

In this role, Ewing was asked to join WSP’s Male Advocates for Real Change committee, which meets each month to address issues of gender equity and diversity within the business. The inspiration for Ewing being leadership from the top, with Guy Templeton, CEO Asia Pacific stating that for WSP, there is no doubt that our people are at the very heart of our business.

Through the Male Advocates for Real Change (MARC) meetings, the group acknowledged within the engineering industry women are underrepresented in leadership positions. According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the average number of females in Key Management Personnel is 32.5 per cent. For engineering design and consulting services the number is 19 per cent and for heavy and civil engineering its just 13.6 per cent.

Paul Williams, Director of Mining and Energy and Diversity and Inclusion Leader said it’s a challenge we have been working hard to address for the past decade.

“Women are underrepresented in our industry, particularly in leadership positions. A major factor contributing to this underrepresentation is the difficulty of returning to work after taking time off to start a family.”

 “Education, promotion, workplace improvements, flexibility and addressing unconscious bias are all part of the solution.”

This is backed up by a report from The Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, which found most employers offering at least 13 weeks paid parental leave halve the rate of loss of workers on their return.

To improve the transition back to work, WSP’s group introduced a specific ‘Return to Work’ program for anyone who has had a break from work or the industry for longer than one year.

The program runs during the first six months of the worker’s return to employment. It supports the employee with a focused training and mentoring program to upskill their technical and industry standard competencies while introducing them to changes in workplace practices.

Flexible working hours and working from home options are another important part of the program, which are balanced with time in the office for mentoring and training.

Ewing said diversity is key to the success of the engineering profession and efforts to retain diversity in the workforce, like WSP’s Return to Work program are important initiatives to consider.

“Women returning to work should be given every opportunity to find success in their careers and programs like ‘Return to Work’ help to make that success a reality.”

If you would like to be part of enacting change for women in engineering you can get involved with a local branch of Engineers Australia’s National Committee for Women in Engineering, email [email protected] to express your interest.