3 August 2015

Engineers Australia has recognised The University of Queensland for its work in boosting female participation in engineering courses.

The industry group has announced UQ as a winner in its 2015 Gender Diversity Awards, in the category of Most Encouraging Student or Non-Profit Group in Gender Diversity.

UQ’s Women in Engineering program communications coordinator Stephanie Crawley said the University’s ground-breaking industry funded program aimed to increase undergraduate female enrolment to 30 per cent by 2023.Recipients of the Engineers Australia Gender Diversity Awards  L-R: Debra Lancelot Katelyn Hall (UQ Student)  Stephanie Crawley Chelsea Edmonds (UQ Student)  Alice Naughton (UQ Student) Prof Caroline Crosthwaite

 “The award is testament to the program’s early success,” she said.

“UQ increased its female intake in engineering from about 18.5 per cent in 2012 to 22.1 per cent in 2015.

“In 2014, it hit 24.3 per cent, which was the highest number and percentage of females entering engineering at UQ in the University’s history.

Ms Crawley said the support of companies including Rio Tinto, API and APPEA as program partners had been critical to the program’s success.

“Industry not only wants change but is willing to invest in change,” she said.

“This is a key message of the program. We are all working together to enrich the engineering industry by providing a better balance of outstanding engineers.

 “We are dedicated to improving gender equality in the engineering workforce in particular, but also to educating young girls about a career in engineering, and how exciting it can really be.”

Ms Crawley said UQ was keen to speak with organisations interested in joining the program as partners.

“I hope this award can be used as a springboard for communicating the importance of diversity and to demonstrate how university programs such as UQ’s Women in Engineering are more successful with industry being involved,” she said.

Meanwhile, research is also under way on how to improve workforce diversity in engineering.

UQ Chemical Engineering researcher Kate O’Brien , with collaborators at Wageningen University and Leiden University in the Netherlands, has demonstrated that much like the poverty trap, low gender diversity in the workplace can be a “lock-in” situation.

The team has published a paper, How to Break the Cycle of Low Workforce Diversity: A Model for Change, in the international science journal PLOS One.

“The benefits of a diverse workforce are well-recognised,” Ms O’Brien  said.

“Workforce diversity can be very hard to improve due to interacting factors including social stereotypes, unconscious bias and family responsibilities.

“This makes it very difficult to identify and address simple barriers to change.”

The research addressed the issue through an “employee budget approach”, focusing on three key factors: appointment bias, departure bias, and applicant diversity.

“We believe these indicators can be used to diagnose bottlenecks, and solve them in practice,” Ms O’Brien said.

Photo: UQ's victorious Engineers Australia Gender Diversity team, from left, marketing and communications coordinator Debra Lancelot, student Katelyn Hall, development and communications coordinator Stephanie Crawley, student Chelsea Edmonds, student Alice Naughton, and Associate Dean (Academic) Professor Caroline Crosthwaite.

Media: Madelene Flanagan m.flanagan@uq.edu.au or + 61 7 3365 8525.