Women who work in engineering throughout Australia continue to be subject to unsatisfactory practices in work environments, new research shows.

Released last week, the 2022/23 edition of the Professional Engineers Employment and Remuneration Report published by professional employees union Professionals Australia provides a snapshot of the engineering work environment based on a survey of more than 1,400 engineers from across the country.

It found that female engineers continue to be subject to unsatisfactory work practices.

In particular, the survey found that:

  • All up, half (50 percent) of all female engineers reported having been subject to gender-based discrimination over the past three years. This compares with 6.8 percent of men who reported likewise.
  • Compared with men, women are also more likely to have experienced discrimination based upon age or race over the past three years.
  • Throughout their career to-date, almost one quarter (22.7 percent) of all female engineers surveyed indicated that they have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace on at least one occasion. This compares with just 2.4 percent of men who were surveyed who had experienced sexual harassment.
  • More than one in five (20.2 percent) female engineers say they intend to leave the engineering profession either permanently or temporarily at some stage in the future – most within the next three years. This compares with less than 15 percent (14.7 percent) who plan to leave the profession overall across both men and women.

According to the survey, the tendency of women to want to leave the profession is being driven by factors associated with the work environment.

Of those women who indicated an intention to leave the profession, common reasons cited include a lack of recognition or opportunities, workplace discrimination and/or bias, poor workplace culture, a lack of career advancement and a lack of flexible work options (see chart).

Family and parenting responsibilities were cited by only one in five women who were thinking about leaving the profession.

By contrast, men who wanted to leave the profession were more commonly motivated by pursuit of other careers and better pay elsewhere.

Meanwhile, of the 22.7 percent of women who had experienced sexual harassment, most (15.9 percent) had experienced this once whilst a smaller number (6.8 percent) had experienced this more than once.

In addition, older women were more likely to have experienced sexual harassment at work compared with their younger counterparts.

All up, more than half (52.9 percent) of female engineers aged 50 or over and almost three in ten (29.3 percent) of those aged between 40 and 49 have experienced sexual harassment at some stage in their professional careers.

However, those numbers fall to 15.4 percent for those aged under 30 and 8.3 percent for those aged between 30 and 39.

This finding is not surprising as older women have had longer careers to date and have thus been in a greater number of situations where they could have been subject to unwanted sexual behaviour.

Aside from gender related issues, the report found that:

  • All up, those surveyed were awarded average pay increases of 2.3 percent across 2022/23. (Reader note: most of the salary reviews for the 2022/23 financial year to which the survey relates would have taken place before the spike in general inflation which has been observed around Australia.)
  • On average, those surveyed worked 42.6 hours in a given week – a number which increased to 52.7 hours for those employed in teaching or training roles.
  • Concerningly, 40 percent of those surveyed did not receive any additional compensation for overtime hours worked.
  • Across those surveyed, 45 percent, 35.8 percent and 32 percent indicated that their personal mental health was being impacted by workplace stress, poor management and unreasonable workloads.


Speaking about the situation regarding female employees, Professionals Australia’s CEO Jill McCabe said the report confirmed that many of the practices which have been documented in earlier reports continue to occur.

McCabe says that every worker has the right to a workplace that is safe and free from discrimination and harassment.

With large investments being made in infrastructure, knowledge-based industries and clean energy, she says the importance of attracting and retaining more in the profession should not be underestimated.

This is particularly important as Professionals Australia says the nation requires an additional 200,000 engineers between now and 2040.

“While we must continue to support more women to study engineering, unless we fundamentally change our engineering workplace cultures and practices, women will not choose to enter or stay in the profession,” McCabe says.

“More recognition and career advancement opportunities for female engineers are required, along with flexible working arrangements and changes in workplace culture.”

Laurice Temple, a leader in the construction sector and Chief Rippler at workplace culture, leadership and wellbeing consultancy Ripple Affect Institute, said that issues which are identified in the report have been well-known for years.

However, Temple makes two observations.

Whilst engineering and construction is a stressful environment, Temple says that few workers have been provided with strategies that are needed to effectively manage workplace pressures.

A simple exercise of deep breathing, for example, can help to lower stress levels but has not been taught to a sufficient number of workers.

Beyond this, Temple says that many system biases remain on account of a lack of ‘champions’ to call these out and to drive change.

Examples include:

  • Job advertisements where requirements and selection criteria are worded in a way which fails to attract a diverse set of backgrounds and experiences. These include requirements that candidates are able to work long hours, possess a degree from Australia or have worked in similar roles for a specified number of years.
  • Methods of recognition and reward which have inherent bias. These can work against those who have been out of the workforce or on extended leave, have been self-employed or have gone to work in different industries for a time.
  • Failing to provide personal protective equipment which is suitable for all employees Examples include forcing women to wear PPE that is specified in men’s sizes/cuts and is thus not correctly fitting or safe.

Temple says change requires purposeful effort and must be driven by senior leaders over a long period of time.

It should be driven throughout the industry by leading organisations who clearly define expectations within procurement strategies.


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