With events such as International Women’s Day and National Apprenticeship Week bringing gender equality to the fore, Connecting looks at why gender equality is critical to the future of National Grid.
“Engineering is a great career for women, and I want others to know that this is a great company to work for.”
Megan Holt, National Grid apprentice engineer.
Only 15-18% of engineering, technology and computer science students are female.
As of last December, 22.4% of National Grid employees were female in the UK.
Source: National Grid.
When it comes to women breaking down barriers, it’s hard to find a more inspirational figure than Marie Curie. In the male-dominated world of science and medicine, she smashed every conceivable glass ceiling to win Nobel prizes and become an incredible role model for what women could achieve.
But what if the next Marie Curie was put off a career in science, technology, engineering or maths by outdated stereotypes? What if she felt she didn’t belong there, chose a different path and never realised her incredible potential?
With International Women’s Day last Sunday and National Apprenticeship Week happening now, issues of gender equality are high on the agenda. So what is National Grid doing to ensure talented young women are engaged by engineering and want to pursue a career in this exciting industry?
The energy sector, and engineering more broadly, is going through big changes. The industry needs a million more engineers by 2020 and must find innovative answers to complex issues, such as climate change and how to provide the energy of the future in a safe and affordable way.
The industry needs more women on board. However, statistics show that both the education system and the industry are failing to engage them in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects and the associated career opportunities. For example:
National Grid has been taking this gender imbalance extremely seriously for several years and its numbers stack up pretty well. As of last December, 22.4% of National Grid employees were female in the UK. And in line with the Lord Davies review of women on boards, National Grid has 25% women on its board. This is particularly ground-breaking in the energy sector.
Megan Holt is a National Grid apprentice and one of the next generation of female engineers. She’s impressed with the support and training she’s receiving.
“I joined National Grid because I wanted to work for a company that could provide me with a career and high quality training,” she said.
“When people find out that I work for National Grid, they usually ask what I do and if I enjoy being an engineer. Engineering is a great career for women, and I’d want others to know that this is a great company to work for.”
Stories like Megan’s haven’t happened by accident. National Grid is involved in lots of programmes and initiatives that aim to get young people, and particularly girls, engaged in the STEM subjects and engineering more broadly. The company works with schoolchildren from primary right through to graduate level to get them inspired.
Layers of skills
National Grid recognises the need for recruiting youngsters with layers of skills and experience that are ready to question, create and deliver solutions for the business. Any dynamic industry needs new blood that is ready and able to question how things are done.
To do this, the company works directly with schoolchildren to help nurture the kind of employees our future economy needs. On programmes such as School Power and Imagineering, the business aims to show young people, especially girls, the possibilities that exist from engaging with STEM subjects and help develop the variety of skills essential for the next generation of engineers.
Engaging more women is also about shedding the industry’s image problem. While perceptions are certainly changing, the image of engineering as a middle-aged boys’ club remains. Rachael Davidson, UK General Counsel and Company Secretary, is pleasantly surprised by the modern face of National Grid.
“My first impression was that the business may be a bit staid and fusty,” she says. “But even before I joined I was interested by the innovation that goes on. Also the values that are important to me personally are values that National Grid holds in high esteem.”
Rachael is convinced that National Grid is a great place for confident, ambitious and talented women to work.
“It’s great to work for a business that touches every aspect of day-to-day life in the UK,” she says. “I find the engineering and technical side of what we do here fascinating.
“I’d love other women to know how seriously we take inclusion and diversity (I&D). It’s really refreshing to find a business that accepts that I&D is a business issue that needs to be considered. And then does something about it!
“National Grid is a great place to consider joining. There is so much scope to try different roles and the business also accepts that people have lives outside of work and really do accommodate flexibility and other interests.”
National Grid is determined to demolish outmoded stereotypes and explode the ‘fusty’ reputation that Rachael refers to. The business is keen to turn the focus on to the fact that engineering is a dynamic, fast-growing industry with immense potential.
It’s worth a staggering £1.17 trillion to the UK economy and employs 5.4 million people across 576,000 businesses. It’s three times the size of the retail sector, full of innovation and sure to challenge and reward girls – and boys – who are passionate about engineering.
Another key aspect of National Grid’s approach is collaboration: sharing ideas and working with other organisations to boost female participation in STEM and break down barriers. One way it does this is by joining up schools with the world of work through programmes like the Careers Lab. In collaboration with charity Business in the Community, it connects professional people with schools to develop more engaging work experience opportunities.
National Apprenticeship Week is another opportunity to communicate these important messages. National Grid is supporting a campaign co-founded by Baroness Verma, a minister at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, called POWERful Women to inspire more women to pursue a career in energy. She visited National Grid’s Eakring Training Centre during Apprenticeship week to meet our apprentices and to see the training they go through at the start of their own energy careers.
Roisin Quinn, who’s been with National Grid for 10 years, sees the company as a great place to work and has seen a huge rise in the number of women in leadership roles since she joined.
“I’ve always found National Grid to be an employer interested in people and how work is done as much as what is delivered,” she says. “Flexible working and part-time roles are available across the business – you don’t have to fit into the traditional nine-to-five pattern to fit into National Grid. The growing number of women in our senior leadership teams provides role models to women at all stages of their career.
“I hope we get to a point where we don’t need to talk about women in the workplace as a ‘live issue’ but in reference to a journey that we have been on to ensure that opportunities are clear to all and effective support is available to everyone, regardless of background.”
- Girls do better in GCSE physics than boys, yet only one fifth of A-level physics students are girls.
- Only 13% of applicants to engineering degree courses in 2013 were women.
- Only 4% of engineering apprentices are women.
- Even though women make up more than 55% of undergraduates, only 15-18% of engineering, technology and computer science students are female.