#MakeSafetySeen – Women in Engineering Day 2023

The Women’s Engineering Society was founded in 1919 following women’s participation in the workforce during World War I. Their goal from the outset has been to provide support to female engineers and promote engineering as a worthwhile career for women as well as men (WES “Our Heritage”).

Today, the WES’s mission is three-pronged: to help women engineers reach their potential, to promote education, and to diversify the field of engineering (INWED).

This year’s theme for International Women in Engineering Day is #MakeSafetySeen.

Construction is one of Ireland’s dominant industries, however, as of 2022 women only made up 9% of the construction workforce (SIG “Women in the Irish Construction Industry”). Lack of representation can have real lived consequences for women’s safety. Employers are required to provide personal protective equipment to all of their employees, however, a 2017 report by the UK Trades Union Congress found that 57% of women wore ill-fitting PPE that hampered their work and only 29% wore PPE that was specifically designed for women (The Guardian “The deadly truth about a world built for men…”). When women are underrepresented it means that women’s safety is overlooked.

So, how do we move forward?

We asked our Construction and Science Teams for their insights into Workplace Safety and how we might diversify the field of engineering.

Is safety a priority to candidates when looking for a new role?

One of the top priorities for candidates across the board right now is job security. “The media has been very negative with regards to layoffs” says Niamh Tahhan, a Recruitment Consultant on the Science team in Limerick. “It’s important that candidates know everything about the organisation they are going for with regards to the markets they reach and net worth.”

For roles in Supply Chain & Manufacturing, Quality Engineering, and Health & Safety physical safety is not a common concern, whereas for roles in Construction physical safety is a top priority. Sinéad Richardson on the M&E Recruitment desk in Dublin says that “a lot of times there can be issues around feeling safe on site, unavailable safety or PPE gear, and a disregard for the things female engineers require on site”, which mirror 2017 findings about safety wear on site. Similarly for Nicole Casey, Senior Recruitment Consultant in Limerick, “if a company has a poor reputation in terms of incidents on site it wouldn’t be appealing to people in the industry.”

What changes have you seen in the mentality towards women in engineering?

Gender diversity has become a major priority for a lot of businesses. Laura Callinan, Senior Recruitment Consultant in Supply Chain & Manufacturing, has seen an eagerness and big push for women in apprenticeships and the benefits for a company in having more of a gender balance.

“Going back less than 10 years” says Sinéad, “unless you had a parent or guardian to mentor you as a female engineer it was never a widely discussed career option.” Nicole identified the stigma towards women in construction as a factor that has prevented women from pursuing engineering. The sector remains predominantly male so while the mentality towards women in engineering is changing in a positive direction, there needs to be a bigger push to get women into apprenticeships and promote engineering in education. 

What are the top safety concerns for candidates in your industry?

As before, job security has been the main safety concern of candidates recently. Amara McCalliog, Senior Recruitment Consultant, has seen a reluctance to move from a permanent position to a contract role for fear of job security. While job security does not appear to be an issue of physical safety, reluctance to move to a new role might dissuade a person from leaving a job or company where they are not appreciated and where their physical safety is not a top priority. 

Amara and Sinéad also highlighted workplace culture. Since there is still a bit of a stigma towards women in engineering, female candidates are eager to get into a role where they will be supported in teams of maternity leave and mental health. “Many candidates” says Amara, “are more open to doing onsite interviews to get a look around the establishment and get a feel for the team.”

Nicole, who works closely with Site Managers and Engineers, has highlighted the importance of physical safety and how workplace culture has a huge influence on feelings of physical safety and acceptance: “Construction sites are inherently hazardous environments, and candidates are often concerned about their physical safety. This includes risks related to falls from heights, electrical hazards, exposure to harmful substances, being struck by falling objects, and accidents involving heavy machinery. Candidates consider company culture as an important aspect of safety.  They want to work for organisations that prioritise safety and have a strong safety culture. This includes promoting open communication about safety, encouraging employee involvement in safety programs, and fostering a proactive approach to identifying and mitigating risks. Sisk, namely, have a zero tolerance to incidents and try to promote this down through their teams to create a safe environment.”

What do you hope to see in the future for women in engineering?

Our consultants Laura Callinan, Sinéad Richardson, Niamh Tahhan, Nicole Casey, and Amara McCalliog all concurred that at the end of the day, what we need is to tackle bias towards women in engineering and create more opportunities. But how do we get there?

Niamh put it simply: “More women in leadership positions.” 

“Equal opportunities for women involves addressing gender biases and discrimination in hiring, promotion, and pay scales” says Nicole. When women are represented in these leadership positions, other women’s needs are met. 

Five headshots on a blue gradient background. The first image is of Laura Callinan. Under her headshot reads her name in bold text, then her job title "Senior Recruitment Consultant" for "Supply Chain & Manufacturing". The second headshot of Amara McCalliog with her title underneath "Senior Recruitment Consultant" for "Quality Control and R&D". Third headshot is Nicole Casey with her title underneath "Senior Recruitment Consultant" for "Site Engineering". Fourth is of Sinead Richardson with her title "Recruitment Consultant" for "Mechanical Engineering". Fifth is Niamh Tahhan with her title "Recruitment Consultant" for "Environmental Safety & Health". All headshots are framed in a circle, on a white background with a dark blue border around the image. All of the text is in the same dark blue.

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