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Recruiting female engineers in mechanical and plant engineering

The search for and retention of suitable specialists poses challenges for many companies in mechanical and plant engineering. Against this backdrop, it is increasingly relevant to get more women interested in technical professions.

Following on from the study “Female engineers in mechanical and plant engineering” by the IMPULS Foundation of the VDMA in cooperation with the WZL of RWTH Aachen University, ProduktionNRW organized a virtual workshop on 18 March 2024 to discuss measures for companies to recruit female engineers.

Findings of the study “Female engineers in mechanical and plant engineering”

Johanna Werz, research group leader at the WZL at RWTH Aachen University, and Johannes Zysk, research assistant at the WZL at RWTH Aachen University, began by presenting the background to the qualitative study.

The shortage of skilled workers is also one of the biggest challenges in mechanical and plant engineering. It is also known that heterogeneous teams are more creative, more innovative and offer a competitive advantage when faced with complex challenges. Against this background, the question arises as to why only 11 percent of engineers in this industry are female, although the proportion of women in mechanical engineering-related degree programs is 22 percent.

The study identifies factors and derives recommendations for action to attract women to the engineering profession and retain them in the industry. Both the perspective of female engineers and the perspective of companies were taken into account and factors influencing the career paths of female engineers – before their studies, during their studies, at the start of their careers and in the company – were identified.

The focus of the event was on career entry, which is why insights and impulses for action on the application and recruitment process were discussed. It was emphasized how important it is to actively address women with gender-equitable language on company websites and in job advertisements, to make female engineers visible as authentic role models and to actively promote equal opportunities within the company. The points discussed were then summarized and clarified using examples of best practice.

Interactive workshop on the key findings of the study

The presentation of the results of the study formed only one part of the workshop, while the interactive exchange between the participants filled the other part of the event. The use of Miro, a collaborative digital whiteboard, accompanied the group work and encouraged exchange between the participants.

The study identified five different personas based on the interviews, which formed the basis for further group work. The aim of the persona method is to design offers or measures to promote female engineers in a target group-oriented manner.

Personas are not real people, but artificially created, exemplary figures with specific characteristics. They are examples of a specific target group and help to understand and take into account the needs of users when developing products or projects. Each of the five personas portrays a woman at different stages of her career.

In the concluding group work, the persona method was used to discuss which recruitment services the company should provide. It was found that many companies have already introduced measures to make working hours more flexible, for example to improve the work-life balance.

Other measures to increase visibility for this target group include the use of gender-equitable language or an authentic representation of women on the company’s own website.

Overall, it is clear that any measures to promote female engineers can have a positive impact on the working culture in companies. As most measures cannot be implemented in the short term or produce quick results, the implementation of gender equality in companies is a long-term process.

By implementing measures to actively promote women, committed companies set themselves apart from their competitors and benefit from the resulting competitive advantages.

Further information

The event was offered by ProduktionNRW. ProduktionNRW is the cluster for mechanical engineering and production technology in North Rhine-Westphalia and is organized by VDMA NRW. ProduktionNRW sees itself as a platform for networking, informing and marketing companies, institutions and networks with each other and along the value chain. Significant parts of the services provided by ProduktionNRW are funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Industry, Climate Protection and Energy of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.