Women engineers continue to be significantly underrepresented in the mechanical and plant engineering sector, even though the proportion of women among engineering employees has risen from around 9 percent (2019) to a good 11 percent at last count (2022). It is therefore an urgent task to attract more women to technical professions and retain them in the company.
Against this background, the VDMA's IMPULS Foundation commissioned a study that for the first time analyzes the hinge of study - career entry and the first years of employment for female engineers. The core message of the study, which was prepared by the Machine Tool Laboratory WZL at RWTH Aachen University, is that there is no single solution for increasing the proportion of female engineers. Rather, many adjusting screws must be turned along the educational and working life.
Role models and own insights
"We need more female students, skilled workers and engineers who want to produce the future in our industry. In this context, it is important to convey the diversity and meaningfulness of the engineering profession - because mechanical engineering develops solutions for the future, from renewable energies and climate-neutral production to sustainable nutrition for the world's population," explains Henrik Schunk, VDMA Vice President and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the IMPULS Foundation.
The study shows that companies that offer internships, excursions or final theses for female students are more successful in recruiting them. The female students and engineers surveyed also express the need for visible female role models. Such role models can be promoted by companies through mentoring programs, female engineering networks or presentations at trade and career fairs and at universities.
Recruitment benefits from targeted approach
The content and visual design of company websites and job postings are also among the recommended adjusting screws. Women are often underrepresented on company websites, as the study shows. In fact, not a single woman was depicted on every tenth website studied. Actively addressing women in recruiting has also hardly been used as a strategic tool to date.
"I know of impressive examples of companies that show that women can work in the industry with competence and a lot of pleasure. This works if it is wanted from the top and accompanied by concrete measures. No one can afford to be hesitant in this field today," explains Prof. Dr. Ingrid Isenhardt, Academic Director at the WZL of RWTH Aachen University and one of the study authors.
"Change" in the corporate culture
According to the study, the necessary "change" must also be reflected in the day-to-day operations of companies. This ranges from the welcoming culture when female engineers join the company, the mindset of employees and company management, to family friendliness and the promotion of female specialist and management careers. The study makes it clear that female engineers still face obstacles regarding equal recognition of professional competencies, career management or work-life balance.
"Politics, society and business no longer have a recognition problem. In our own sphere of action, we are all called upon to implement. Change will certainly not be a foregone conclusion, but continuing as before is not an option either - individual life chances, a shortage of skilled workers, the ability to innovate and the major tasks facing us as a country and society define the pressure to act," says Hartmut Rauen, Deputy Managing Director of the VDMA.
Online check for companies
The study team from the WZL at RWTH Aachen University surveyed 49 female engineers in the mechanical and plant engineering sector for the study. To identify potential fields of action, the web presences of 90 companies and the working conditions in three exemplary companies were analyzed in a walk-through study. With the help of the results of the study, an online check was developed for practical use. At www.womengineers.de, companies can determine their need for action and call up a wide range of recommendations.
"The study results pay into the VDMA's activities," Rauen emphasizes with a view to further association activities.
Planned activities include a public conference, experience-sharing events for companies with the VDMA's regional associations, the presentation of role models from the mechanical engineering sector, and the creation of contact points between companies and young female engineers.
Shortage of skilled workers and solutions
Only one in three companies is still able to fill engineering positions as planned, according to the latest VDMA engineering survey from November 2022. For the majority of companies, this is not possible in a timely manner and/or with the planned qualifications.
Demand for engineers reached a new record level last year. There have never been more open positions advertised in the mechanical and plant engineering sector or across the economy. Even at the beginning of this year, demand clearly exceeds supply.
"But one good signal for the future is that mechanical engineering is the most popular among first-year students, with women accounting for around 25 percent of the core engineering subjects," Rauen said.