Career Deflection

Exploring diversity, progression and retention in engineering

Cockett J, Williams M, Pollard E, Garner O, Cook J |   | Institute for Employment Studies  | Nov 2021

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This report presents the findings of a study to explore diversity in engineering and how this has changed over the last 10 years. It explores how diverse groups progress within engineering occupations and what factors act as barriers, which may lead to career deflection, and what act as levers or enablers to progression within engineering; and thus what engineering organisations can and should do to improve diversity and reduce loss of talent.

Over the last decade the engineering profession has taken steps to move away from being a mainly white and male-dominated. To work to achieve this, it has primarily focused on increasing the diversity of entrants. This includes an emphasis on and analysis of the diversity of graduates entering higher education and of recruits to the engineering profession, particularly in the work undertaken by the Royal Academy of Engineering. However little attention has arguably been placed on experiences within engineering and an engineering career or on efforts to ensure that the likelihood of remaining in the profession does not differ by background and diversity characteristics.

The work on increasing the supply has had mixed results. Cohorts entering higher education (HE) courses in engineering have become more diverse in recent years but there is still some way to go. Women remain significantly underrepresented in engineering and technology courses, disabled individuals are underrepresented, and, although engineering and technology is more ethnically diverse than most other subjects in HE, gaps in attainment between those from white backgrounds and those from ethnic minority backgrounds persist.

Also, women and those from ethnic minority backgrounds are less likely to be employed in the engineering sector or to be in engineering-related roles six months after graduating from HE (EngineeringUK, 2020; EngineeringUK, 2019). Poor retention among certain groups within the industry coupled with potentially lower progression opportunities and greater barriers to progression, can lead to underemployment (not able to make the best use of their skills and knowledge) and a loss of talent, and to engineering struggling to retain a mixture of talents that reflects wider society. Increasing the supply of entrants will not lead to a more diverse workforce if individuals leave at a faster rate than they can be replaced. Key organisations such as Atkins are therefore concerned that career deflection leads to a lack of inclusivity and undermines retention, leading to a loss of talent to the sector and profession and a wider cost to society.

This report explores career deflection - potentially resulting from barriers to progress within a career in engineering and retention – for diverse groups.