International Women’s Day (8th March 2021) ranks as an important event in any calendar year but, as the world continues to grapple with COVID-19, perhaps it has taken on special significance in 2021. Women have been in the frontline – as scientists, doctors, nurses, carers, members of the armed services and in many other prominent roles too numerous to mention.
As the threat of the disease recedes, it is going to take a gigantic effort not just to restore this country to where it was before the pandemic, but to put it on course to where we all want it to be. Women are well placed to play a crucial role in shaping the future.
The past year has been dreadful in so many ways, but the sacrifices have not all been in vain. Lockdown has led to bluer skies, quieter roads and cleaner air, demonstrating more effectively than any TV ad campaign could just why we need to tackle climate change.
Gender equality has also been given a boost; the barriers that have historically prevented women from entering certain professions have disappeared. Engineering UK estimates that this country is short of between 37,000 and 59,000 trained engineers, yet women account for only 12% of the total. Recruiting more women into the industry would be good for engineering, good for the economy and simply the right thing to do.
Part of the problem has been perception – men wearing hard hats, high vis jackets and covered in oil. The reality is very different; there are countless careers waiting for the right candidates in civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering.
There are other glaring examples of wasted opportunity. A study by National Grid showed that the energy sector has 400,000 jobs that need to be filled. With the ‘green agenda’ moving rapidly up the priority list and the UK’s 2050 net zero target looming, we desperately need the people with the right qualifications (irrespective of gender) to fill the gap.
Surely the key to change is to dispel the myths and introduce flexible working practices that not only encourage women into careers in industry but also to keep them there for the longer term.
If the past twelve months have taught us nothing else, we have learnt to adapt to meet the circumstances. Social distancing regulations, hygiene and travel restrictions are currently ruling our lives, but we have seen technology step in to help us overcome these obstacles. On the gender issue, we should be encouraging diversity, not standing in its path. To act otherwise is to waste a huge pool of untapped talent.