#INWED2020 Could we do better when it comes to EDI / / by Cath Pennington

Cath Pennington is an engineering geologist at the British Geological Survey. Here, she discusses women in the BGS workplace in honour of International Women in Engineering Day 2020. 

International Women's Day 2020 at BGS ©UKRI

We have plenty of engineers at BGS who bring with them a variety of backgrounds and experience.  Our engineers carry out science research into a wide range of topics. These include understanding, modelling and forecasting geohazards (landslides, sinkholes, tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanoes), evaluating the properties of the subsurface and modelling future landscape scenarios under a changing climate (e.g. coastal erosion, flooding and subsidence). This work is done in our offices or from home, in our labs or out on site in locations all over the world.

If you can tolerate the binary nature of the rest of my sentence* then you will see that, in terms of overall numbers, the BGS is doing quite well with roughly 55:45 men/women on the books, having moved from a 60/40 split just five years ago. Dig a little deeper, however, and you will find some interesting but not entirely surprising trends. While the numbers are becoming slowly more equitable, men still occupy more of the engineering and technical roles and have, until recently, dominated the most senior positions. Women still dominate administration and operational support roles and two thirds of part-time staff are women who have reduced their hours to give their unpaid time to other commitments.

BGS staff at the Lyell Centre © UKRI

What about recruitment?

When we employ someone, our priority is our business needs. We want to employ the best person for the job regardless of their background and lived experience. It’s how well they can do the job and what they will bring to the organisation that’s the thing we are looking for. 

For engineering roles however, the problem has always been that there are very few women applicants.  This is a trend seen across the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) fields and the reasons behind this are complex and societal and it starts from a very young age. All you have to do is find yourself trying to buy a two year old a birthday present and the gendered division of toys is STILL markedly pointing boys to engineering and girls to the (pink) kitchen sink. 

But lack of female applicants is slowly changing and we are committed to promoting equality and diversity across our organisation as well as across all areas of our science community. We aim to have a workforce with employees from all backgrounds with people who are passionate about earth science and who share our commitment to work for the good of the environment and the benefit of society.

We actively seek to avoid discrimination on the grounds of age, gender identity, marital status, being pregnant or on maternity leave, disability, sexual orientation or race (including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin).

Last year, our Athena Swan Bronze institutional status was renewed in recognition of our continued commitment to advancing gender equality, including representation, progression, and success for all. 

International Women in Engineering Day 2020 #INWED20

National Women in Engineering Day was started in 2014 by the Women’s Engineering Society to celebrate its 95th anniversary. Since then, the day has grown to the point where it received UNESCO patronage in 2016 and become International Day in 2017 due to the global audience it attracts.

There are various virtual events happening today and you can find out more about these on their website: http://www.inwed.org.uk/

*sorry about that – I have limited data to work with.  The good news is that the BGS has a dedicated Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group who are working hard to address this issue even as I type.