In recent times, the benefits of a diverse workforce have been thoroughly researched and widely published. Study after study has shown that those companies that are racially, ethnically and gender diverse are more innovative, creative, faster-to-market and of course, more profitable. A set of McKinsey and Co reports found that companies are 15% more likely to perform better if they are gender diverse and that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality.

This is because of the different perspectives diversity brings to companies. And yet for many of them, it remains rather elusive, especially within engineering & manufacturing. These are traditionally heavily male-dominated sectors where according to the Women’s Engineering Society, women make up only 9% of the workforce.

However, it would be remiss to suggest that engineering and manufacturing companies are totally to blame as according to the Institute of Engineering and Technology, only 15.8% of engineering and technology undergraduates in the UK are female. So, expecting these companies to have a gender-diverse workforce when their talent pool is predominantly male leaves them on a hiding to nothing. I would suggest that the Government and the education system are at fault too.

Of course, companies could be doing more and there are ways they can help alleviate the situation. These revolve largely around the working environment in terms of culture, pay equality and career breaks. Additionally, getting boards to place more women into senior managerial positions – not just as role models but also as instigators of change – is another area of work that needs some disruptive action.  Boards should take seriously the need to ensure diversity at this level.

These changes have huge positives and will make a difference but they alone won’t turn the 15.8% into 50%. They are short-term fixes and won’t solve the problem by itself. Only around 20% of A-Level physics students are female and this hasn’t changed much in 25 years whilst the ratio of young women studying engineering and physics at university has remained almost the same for the past five years. A long-term strategy is required too.

Therefore, I would suggest that this long-term strategy involves finding a way to flood the talent pipeline with the next generation of female engineers. Once this happens and we get a critical mass of women in the engineering workplace, only then will the significant benefits of true diversity be realised.

So, how do we get there? By focusing on schools, colleges and universities, offering young people relevant and appropriate career advice to help them make informed career decisions and helping them cultivate educational and industry links. These, I would suggest are the key starting points to success.

Companies, with Government assistance, need to forge real and sustained links with their local schools, colleges and universities ensuring that they get the skills they need as well as the applicants for the apprenticeships or graduate jobs that they have to offer.

Diversity is increasingly being demonstrated as not just a “nice thing to have” but a business imperative.  Engineering and manufacturing companies need to work with Government to ensure that they find long-term methods to attract females into their sectors but also embrace a change in culture to allow them to retain senior female talent after career breaks, and ensure that they actively promote them.  Only then, can they can start to become more diverse and bring the innovation and creativity that their sector would surely benefit from.

Paul is New Business Director for the Energy & Industrial Practice at Write Research and helps organisations make better informed people decisions based on real time insight from talent research.