The f-word. It's been making media and social headlines again. With big campaigns like the Everyday Sexism Project aiming to highlight sexism in everyday life, this new wave of feminism is aiming to address a wide array of issues from reducing the pay gap to creating a broader and more diverse range of individuals at the top of trades and professions.
Talk on this issue has hit the engineering industry hard - and boy does it need it. Engineering as a whole has a pathetic nine percent female representation (the lowest in all of Europe). There is also a severe shortage of engineering professionals; Engineering UK's 2015 report predicts that employers will need 1.82million people with engineering skills from 2012-2022 - that's double the number we currently having coming in and would provide a value of £27billion per year from 2022. An appeal towards women would target 50 percent of the population which, on the whole, seems uninterested in an engineering career. Let's face it, the engineering industry could do with targeting every kind of person, male or female to provide some diversity from middle aged white male domination.
Should this topic be discussed more in public, in engineering work places, and on construction sites? Yes. Using the word feminism? Probably not. Most people support the concept of gender equality but many find the word 'feminism' off-putting and negative. I know of many who will hear or see the word and their eyes will glaze over and many men assume that they are themselves under attack.
Few people would publically disagree with the idea that a broader range of cultures and backgrounds would bring in a broader range of ideas and views; what is disappointing is that a large proportion of people are unwilling to acknowledge that we have a problem right now. The following was published in the letters and comments by readers section of a civil engineering magazine:
"Your definition of a feminist as being "an advocate of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes" is just plain wrong. The sexes are not equal. They have many similarities, many things in common, but also many differences. Even one difference is enough to make them different/unequal. They may be said to be complementary, but they are simply not equal. Since, therefore, the ground on which your definition is based is wrong, your whole argument is erroneous. Furthermore, of all the professions, civil engineering, with its close links to construction, and despite changes wrought by the introduction of mechanisation, computerisation and IT, is among the least suited to women. You do protest too much."
The worry is that it is not just outdated dinosaurs within the industry that take this view. I have met a number of girls who have said that their parents (and more alarmingly their teachers!) have questioned whether engineering is a good career for them. The industry has a huge PR issue with plenty of ill-informed myths. Parents: the industry is not the same as it was twenty years ago and it's very definitely a worthwhile career for all genders!
Whether his views on a definition are true or not, the label or definition isn't the issue. It is the ideas, sentiments and beliefs behind it that count. Whether you like the word "feminism" or not, it's about equal rights for both sexes. Men should not be stereotyped, told to "man up" and behave in a way that society has historically imposed through a macho culture. Women should be treated fairly and with as much respect as their male colleagues. There are issues that affect both sexes. For example, re-evaluating paternity leave for new fathers to allow couples to decide how the split between mother and father should be divided.
Civil engineering and construction doesn't need to be the preserve of men. I am a woman. A woman who has worked in design offices, in different countries, with universities, and out on construction sites: I am at a complete loss as to why construction would not suit women. From operatives to apprentices to civil engineers to site managers to commercial and support staff: women should not feel disadvantaged in any way. The industry provides all kinds of roles from design office to outdoor activities, local country offices to jetting around the world. You choose your path and your role as best suits you.
In the workplace and on construction sites, we should be getting people to talk about equality. In a majority male industry, it shouldn't be down to women to fix the issue alone. Both sexes should be discussing the issues of equality and equal access, calling out those with unacceptable views. Regardless of using the word 'feminism' or not, men and women should feel empowered to speak out on behalf of both sexes. The f-word isn't just about women, it's about everyone.