There seem to have been a run of articles recently debating the frequently raised question of whether women, and working mothers in particular, can “have it all”, writes Caroline Todd, HR manager at Civic Engineers. Is it really possible to have the job you love with the associated hours and find the balance you want with your family life?
Farah Storr, the once Editor of Cosmopolitan, says it’s definitely not possible to “have it all”, and The Times recently described the situation as “working mums being sold an impossible dream”. So, with the engineering industry being over 85% male and known for its inflexibility, do we really need to “have it all” or are times changing, and companies increasingly recognising the importance of providing the flexibility to help working parents balance the demands of work and a family?
At Civic Engineers, as an SME we are actively focused on improving gender diversity and taking an open-minded, flexible approach to how our employees work, particularly when it comes to working mums. With our largest studio in Manchester, the company employees over 80 people, 36% of which are female. We have seen an increase in the number of female engineers graduating but senior female engineers are still in the minority, and one of the significant reasons behind this is the perception that engineering roles need to be full time or nothing.
Within engineering there is still a common perception that women who have had children can’t return to work on anything other than full time. It’s absolutely vital that we work to change this perception or we are losing some amazing industry talent. We hear often that many would like to come back to work but can’t because companies don’t offer the flexibility needed to allow them to fulfil their family commitments. Having a more diverse workforce is incredibly important, and we feel it contributes to success as a business. To attract a more diverse workforce we have to be open minded and provide real flexibility about where, when and how we work. It’s about shifting the focus from the traditional 9am–5pm Monday to Friday in the office, to focusing on an individual’s output and contribution overall to the business, rather than hours.
Across our studios a number of our senior engineers, associate directors, business administrators, finance, marketing and HR specialists are all working mothers who work part-time and this works brilliantly for us and for them. The focus is on output and trust and if you treat someone like that and give them the flexibility and understanding they need, they’re better at their job. One of our senior engineers approached us recently asking to increase her hours now her kids have started school. Whilst needing to work around school holidays and school hours, we agreed to home working for an extra two half-days depending on workload and need, so this outcome was of benefit to everyone.
We believe if we’ve found the right person but due to their circumstances we need to look at them working more flexibly, then that’s something we will happily discuss and do. A more diverse workforce equals greater problem-solving abilities, and more ingenious solutions to the complex engineering challenges we work on for our clients.