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Women paving way in male-dominated work

Reported by AAP
Friday, March 2, 2012
Topics in this article:
Cochlear
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When Dr Bronwyn Evans visited construction sites during the early years of her career, the engineering sector wasn't much used to seeing women in hard hats.

"I remember being in field roles and there weren't facilities for women," said Dr Evans, now a senior vice president with medical engineering company Cochlear.

Thirty years ago, Ms Evans and her female counterparts made up a mere three per cent of the professional engineering workforce in Australia.

Today, there is a national association for women in construction. Australia has its first female prime minister, it's first female governor general and it's wealthiest citizen is a woman - and we're assured the glass ceiling shattered long ago.

But with UN International Women's Day less than a week away on March 8, Ms Evans said there was still work to be done.

Like in many industries, women remain severely under-represented in the engineering sector.

Nine out of 10 engineers in Australia are men, and just two per cent of the senior fellow positions at the professional body Engineers Australia are held by women.

"As a profession, we've got to think about how we're encouraging girls and young women to really set themselves up to take on engineering," she said.

In other sectors, the situation is different.

The head of Australian development agency Save the Children Suzanne Dvorak said while more than three quarters of NGO workers nationally were women, it was a different story higher up the ladder.

Of the 70 or so registered agencies similar to Save the Children in Australia, just six were run by women.

"Our workforce is dominated by women yet still led by men," she said.

"There are some unconscious biases and some prejudices, and I think there is that age-old question of women's style and how that necessarily works in leadership positions."

In May, both Ms Evans and Ms Dvorak will have the opportunity to tackle these issues when they attend the prestigious Women's Leadership Forum at Harvard Business School.

Both women have been awarded scholarships from women's group Chief Executive Women and will spend five days mingling with top global businesswomen discussing leadership and management skills.

Ms Evans said she hoped to explore ways of encouraging young women to pursue careers in male-dominated industries like engineering and plug gaps in our domestic skilled workforce.

Efforts like those by Young Australian of the Year Marita Cheng, who travels to schools with her group RoboGals promoting engineering to girls, were right on track.

"If we can get more young women making that choice we will bridge some of the gap of an ageing engineering workforce," she said.

"We're recruiting at Cochlear from all over the world because we've got gaps in engineering."

However she stressed it was important to recognise the gains that had been made and to carry that momentum into the future.

"There's women who are driving the heavy vehicles, there's women who are in the trade, there's women who are engineers," she said.

"I think as a country and generally in industries we're starting to get more used to the idea."

29/11/2014 10:52Sydney, Australia. 29 November,2014
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