DIVERSITY SPEECH– FINAL
So, if you want someone to deliver a speechon diversity…
Who better than a straight, white, middle-class male?
But the reason I’m here today to talk to you all about apprenticeships
diversity is that…
Whatever my particular demographic profile…
We need absolutely everybody to be on board.
This is nowhere more apparent or true than in the sectormy organisation
Semta is the sectorskills council for advanced manufacturing and
Engineering is a sectorwhere just 12 per cent of the workforce is female.
And where just 3 in every hundred apprenticeships are started by women.
This despite almost as many girls taking GCSE Physics as do boys.
And although four times as many young men study A Level Physics as do
That ratio is still nowhere near the thirty-three to one ratio for
Engineering is also a sectorwhere black and minority ethnic higher
education students are actually relatively over-represented…
But where BAME apprenticeship starts continue to lag behind white starts.
Now, this would be bad enough and would be worth fixing on its own
But it’s even more imperative to our sectorgiven that we have a looming
The most recent estimate of the number of new recruits to the sectorputs it
at 1.8 million over the coming decade.
That’s a lot of new engineers.
In fact, to meet that need we will require 20% of all children currently at
schoolto become engineers.
We have an ageing workforce,and half of it is set to hit retirement age in
the next decade.
Most of those who are set to retire are, of course,white and male.
So we have a great opportunity to build a more diverse engineering sector,
To do that, we need to do three things – I’m a big fan of the ‘rule of three’
generally, and this is no exception!
One, we need to get our messaging to young people about engineering
apprenticeships right – from as early an age as possible.
Two, we need to make sure our sectoris an inclusive and accepting place
And three, we need to build programmes,looking at the best practice that’s
already underway, which demonstrate to people that engineering is the
sectorfor them and that an apprenticeship is the way in.
So, on our messaging – I’ll start by talking about genderand then move on
to other areas where we need to build a more diverse engineering
There is no good reason why boys should be more predisposed to become
engineers than girls.
No good reason at all.
In the seventies,Lego used to include letters with their boxes of bricks
which told parents –
“The urge to create is equally strong in all children. Boys and girls.”
And engineering, ultimately, is about creativity.
So why is this message not getting through?
Perhaps girls and women simply do not realise just how creative the skillset
needed to be a great engineeris.
This is embedded from an early age.
Boys are encouraged to build – and to destroy– in the course of their play.
They are encouraged to make a mess.
Girls are encouraged to nurture.
You can walk into pretty much any toy shop and you will see this stark
It’s crazy, and it needs to change, because the attitudes that we encourage
our children to take on at a young age…
Will then go on to inform their attitudes later on in life.
So we need to encourage girls, as much as boys, who like to create and to
experiment in their play.
We then need to make the link between those character traits and
We already have one example of good practice in the STEM Ambassador
Where young female apprentices can go into schools,talk to the children,
and say to them –
“I got here and there is nothing to stop you from taking the same path I did.”
Researchwe at Semta did last year underlines the importance of changing
how we talk about apprenticeships inengineering.
Girls and women who are in engineering, our research showed,were
motivated to get into the sectorby the prospectof interesting and exciting
work – just the same as the men – but were less motivated by earning
And female engineers are less likely to use salary as a selling point for the
Who wouldn’t want to be an engineer?
You will get to solve the world’s biggestchallenges, you will get to be
creative, and you will take a real sense of pride and achievement home
An apprenticeship is the first step on this road.
We know from the mostrecent Industry Apprentice Council report that
female engineering apprentices are just as satisfied with their choices as
their male peers.
That report was based on a survey, facilitated and supported by Semta, of
1,200 apprentices drawn mostly from engineering sectors.
The girls and women that do make it into engineering get here because
they are driven and because they really want to becomeengineers.
That’s superb – but how many more girls and women must be put off the
sectorfor life by how STEM subjects are taught and by how STEM careers
As the IAC report shows, many of them are actively put off from getting an
More than four in five female respondents to the survey said higher
education was the number one pathway to aim for in their schoolor
And how many might be put off by the new End Point Assessments that are
mandated for all apprenticeship standards –
Given that research shows that girls prefermore continuous assessment
and do better when assessedin such a way?
And how many might be really well suited to an engineering
Only to be put off by a teacher telling them it’s not for them?
The Industry Apprentice Council report paints a really stark picture of the
state of careers advice in schools.
And the female apprentices who respondedwere, on average, less likely to
have beenencouraged to do their apprenticeships than the male
That is, frankly, not good enough. It is shameful.
So we really, really do need to change the messagesthat young people
receive in schoolabout engineering and about our apprenticeships.
But although message is important, the messengermatters just as much.
It doesn’tmatter how we talk about our sector…
If the only people doing the talking are all older, white and male.
As I said previously, the STEM Ambassador network is a great start.
And our Semta Skills Awards Best of British Engineering this year is a
And there are many other initiatives across engineering which are aimed at
bringing about a more diverse apprenticeship intake.
Semta is proud to supportthe Asian Apprenticeship Awards,for example –
The awards give a platform to talented young apprentices from Asian
backgrounds and provide excellent role models for other young people
from similar backgrounds to show that they, too, could get ahead through
We cannot underestimate the importance of role models.
Recentresearch in the US has shown that female engineering students
who are given female mentors are more likely to stick with their courses
than those who are not given a mentor and those who are given a male
A recent Semta report on apprentice pastoral care underlined the
importance of giving young people good role models to supportthem,
especiallyas they begintheir apprenticeships.
An SME may find it harder than a large company to provide a role model
with a similar profile to an apprentice –
So perhaps we need to develop something which SMEs can tap into to give
their young apprentices the support they need.
One good,practical – and, best of all, free! – thing all employers can do is
to think about how they write their apprenticeship adverts.
There is an inherent gender bias in some job adverts – and it’s worse in
male-dominated fields like engineering.
Researchhas shown that women consistently underestimate their abilities
and, when it comes to new opportunities, can focus more on what they
cannot do than on what they can offeran employer.
So, presented with a list of duties and responsibilities,and a list of essential
criteria, which are studded with stereotypicallymasculine traits like
Womencan be turned off.
Whereas a male candidate will look at that list and, more often than not,
“It’ll be all right on the night.”
I know this from my own experiences – both from how I and my male
friends and family approach the job hunt, and from how the girls and
women I know approach these things.
Good engineering firms have already shifted the emphasis in their
They focus less on the day-to-day duties and tasks…
And much more on the characteristics and behaviours needed to do the job
A study in the US showed that women are less interested in job adverts
which are written in a gender-biasedway…
So if you want a more genderdiverse field of applicants – do it differently.
Having encouraged a more diverse poolof candidates for your engineering
You need to prove to every candidate that they will be welcome and valued
in your workplace.
Again – this is a cultural change that we need to effect.
Much of the bias that we see in too many workplaces is unconscious.
Much of the time, it exists simply because the existing workforce and
management have never actually needed to think about certain issues.
This can be as simple as the female toilets being an afterthought, on a
differentfloorto the male toilets or in a less accessible place.
Or it can be there being no quiet, private space being available in which a
religious observerwould be able to pray.
Perhaps the manager’s office is upstairs, which makes accessing it
impossiblefora less physically mobile employee.
Those with strong, determined personalities will, perhaps, look at obstacles
like these and think –
“I will not be put off by this.”
And in the vast, vast majority of cases,employers will want to
accommodate and will be all too happy to change things like this.
In the case of disability, it is the law that employers must make a
reasonable adjustment to account foran individual’s disability.
And good employers will readily make any changes which are suggested
by their employees.
Employers want their workers to feelhappy and valued, after all.
But it can be dependenton someone speaking out…
And if you’re in a small minority, you can often just feel it’s easier to accept
the status quo.
So if you are taking on apprentices…
Be mindful of how your workplace looks and feels to them…
Especiallyif they are going to be in a minority in your workplace.
Now we’ve got the right messages to attract people in place and we’ve got
a load of workplaces where everyone can feel truly valued and respected.
The final step is to bring people in.
Government has a role to play in this.
We have the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network, for example,
which is chaired by an MP and is made up of employers from across the
whole economy– including engineering.
Now, whatever you think of government-settargets for apprenticeships…
And I know that feeling is mixed where the 3 million starts target is
A target can at least help to focus minds on a shared priority.
So in this case, we have a target of a 20 per cent increase in BAME
But a government target is not enough.
The government cannot feasibly reach out to every single employerin the
country and encourage them to take on apprentices,and to think about
taking in a more diverse pool of apprentices.
Nor can the government reach out to every single employerand tell them
what the law says –
Which is that positive action is allowed in law if you are seeking to address
an imbalance in your workforce –
So you cannot actively discriminate, but you can level the playing field.
This is one tool employers have in their lockers – but if they don’t use it,
there is always a risk they will lose it.
Remember– it is a cultural change that we are seeking to effecthere.
It’s ultimately only by changing the culture, and changing people’s
mindsets,that we can really ensure that change will be sustained beyond
the lifespan of any one programme or initiative.
The best diversity and inclusion programmes across the engineering sector
seek to do just that.
So, for example, some companies,such as Rolls-Royce,seekto balance
their intakes for work experience programmes.
And MBDA demand a genderbalanced intake for their schooltrip visits.
So if a teacher has five boys with an interest in engineering…
They must find five girls, too.
By taking equal numbers of male and female candidates onto programmes,
employers do two things.
One – they say to female would-be engineers, loudly and clearly –
This is a place where you could work.
And two, they say to their existing staff –
Changing the balance of our workforce,and making the best use of all
available talent, is a priority for us.
So it needs to be a priority for you, too.
And this means that there is then a wider poolof potential candidates for
the company’s apprenticeships.
Which then filters into the company’s recruitment profile.
MBDA now have a genderbalanced apprenticeship intake.
In Rolls-Royce,in MBDA and in many other engineering companies such
as Atkins, this has beendriven from the top.
If a company has a CEO, or a Chairman, or others in senior positions who
are committed to building a more diverse intake of apprentices –
It acts as a catalyst.
Over time, a new culture can take root within the company.
Individual, piecemealinitiatives, though, cannot be the whole solution.
They can change the culture within one company – but what we need is
wholesale, sectoral cultural change.
That’s where pan-sectoral initiatives come in.
Semta, for example, has beenworking on an apprenticeship diversity
toolkit, along with the ICE and the WISE campaign.
We launched on International Womenin Engineering Day, last month.
I would urge anyone with an interest in engineering apprenticeships to take
a look –
It’s packed full of excellent case studies and includes lots of examples of
positive things employers can do to bring in a more balanced intake.
As our Chair, Dame Judith Hackitt, recently made clear in a blog post –
We need initiatives and programmes of work which cut across the whole of
Because,ultimately, the skills issues in our sector…
Apply across the whole sector…
And the whole sectoris reliant on there being a pipeline of new talent
I’ve spoken for about fifteenminutes…
And I feellike I’ve barely even begun to scratch the surface.
But we need, all of us, to keep on scratching that surface until we break
And are able to attract apprentices from all backgrounds and from all
sections of the community.
Because for engineering – the very future survival of the sectordepends on
So – while we’re working towards a longer-term cultural change –
Let us in the short term use the tools we have at our disposal –
And let us use positive action and build on the many examples of good
practice that already exist –
To build a more balanced engineering workforce for the future.
Thank you for listening.