Women are key to meeting net zero

07 Mar 2023

According to research issued in January 2023, only 2% of plumbing and heating engineers are female.

Women are a huge untapped resource in a sector that is experiencing historic and long-term skills shortages, which threaten to delay the urgent transition to net zero 2050.

Job roles within the sector are diversifying with a greater emphasis on ‘engineering’ aspects, such as problem solving and energy efficient design. To meet this challenge, we need more diverse inputs, from women and other under-represented groups, including a much higher intake of new entrants – both school leavers and those with workplace experience.

A greater diversity of viewpoints inspires the innovative and creative solutions we need to meet net zero, while allowing experienced engineers to upskill to fulfil roles in low-carbon technologies and fuels, from heat pumps to hydrogen.

What can we do to improve gender diversity in the trades?

  • Challenge unconscious bias

Some interesting research carried out by Engineering UK found that amongst 14–16-year-olds – school leavers – 85% of girls and 84% of boys agreed that engineering is a suitable career for everyone regardless of gender, but only 36% of girls would consider a career in engineering, compared to 64% of boys. 

This suggests that while young female school leavers believe in gender equality, they don’t necessarily see themselves in an engineering role. One key reason for this is ‘unconscious bias’ – pre-conceived ideas about what is ‘normal’ that filter down through the generations. We’ve grown up in a world where gas engineers and plumbers are usually men, but we need to challenge this belief if we are to build a skilled workforce that meets the needs of future decades.

  • Promote respectful behaviour

When we first came up with the idea for what would become our Inclusivity Charter, we carried out some field research. We heard accounts from female trainees who had experienced seemingly harmless ‘banter’ in the classroom – questions regarding their strength to lift a boiler, for example. Casual remarks like this contribute to a negative culture of intimidation and effect the progress of everyone, men included. The best environment for learning is one where everyone is equally valued.

Hattie Hasan MBE, founder of all-female plumbing business, Stopcocks Women Plumbers and the Register of Tradeswomen, expands on this: “Training is the first step in most people’s careers, so getting this bit right in terms of ensuring people feel they can move into a sector that might not be considered ‘the norm’ is crucial.”

Active listening, patience and impartiality at management level will ensure long-term solutions are implemented. 

  • Flexible online learning

In a post Covid age, we are all far more used to communicating online. Many aspects of our qualifications can be delivered in this way. These tools, plus other flexible approaches, such as evening and weekend courses, make training more accessible to more people.

We want to ensure LCL Awards centres are welcoming places to people from all walks of life. Find out more about the LCL Awards Inclusivity Charter and here.