Women in field service

Written by
Laurence Cramp

Women in field service

Written by
Laurence Cramp

Women in field service

Written by
Laurence Cramp

International Women's Day

At the time of writing this it has recently been International Women's Day (IWD). IWD has occurred for well over a century on the 8th March, with the first IWD gathering in 1911. It functions as a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. This year's focus is #EachforEqual. It encourages each one of us to help create a gender equal world. Equality is not a women's issue, it's a business issue.

Women in STEM subjects

As I was reading about this year's IWD theme it struck me that in the area of field service which we write about, there is much further to go to achieve equality in gender representation. This is the case in front line operating roles of field service and in management roles such as field service managers, supervisors and directors.

Part of the challenge is due to STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). In spite of the best efforts of many companies and a host of firms in academia to encourage more women to pursue a career in STEM-related subjects the reality is that engineering remains very stubbornly male-dominated and is perhaps one of the most male-dominated professions overall.

In the UK 21.2% of A-level physics students are girls compared to 61.8% of biology students according to the UK Parliament. 24% of graduates in STEM subjects are known to be working in a STEM occupation six months later, so even when women follow STEM subjects there is then a drop out rate in those who continue to purse a STEM-related career.

Things are changing but it will take time. According to new research by WISE, the campaign for gender balance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), the UK is expected to have 1 million women working in core STEM roles by 2020 and 200,000 women with STEM qualifications are expected to reach working age within the next 2 years. Nearly 58,000 (12%) women are working as professional engineers, more than double the number in 2013.

Globally the statistics follow the UK. Global female enrollment is particularly low in some areas. Just 3% of students joining information and communication technology (ICT) courses across the globe are women. The numbers are around 5% for mathematics and statistics courses and this increases to 8% for engineering, manufacturing and construction courses.

Cultural challenges

Without the pipeline of women studying STEM it's no wonder that the skills pipeline isn't there to flow into women working in field service. It's worth remembering the market is also competitive so even those who decide to pursue an engineering-related career may end up working in investment banking, move abroad to follow a big engineering project or specialise in a work area other than field service.

A study from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2014 asked women who had qualified in STEM subjects whether they were pursuing a career in STEM and the reasons for not doing so. Reasons for women never entering STEM careers or leaving the field, included:

  • Didn’t like the engineering culture
  • Hard working with a company with no women
  • No strong network of females in engineering
  • Male-centric culture with high expectations for travel and little personal time\
  • Not flexible enough to pursue other concerns such as children or family
  • Management culture being overly male dominated

There are clear cultural challenges in engineering-related companies. Whilst this is a generalisation and only one survey, it should force us to look again at our own field service organisations and ask whether they are suitably flexible, inclusive, positive, gender-agnostic places to work.

Women in field service

Culture is something that develops over a long time. We need to keep challenging field service cultures and changing them a few steps at a time. There is clearly a need to create greater awareness of the opportunity that exists within field service, both for males and females. Field service can be a 24/7 job and that is a hard ask for many employees, particularly those with family commitments. Sensitivity in managing on-call rotes and incentivisation may be needed.

Sometimes there can be a mindset issue that needs to be challenged. Management might think there’s a lot of physical activity that might make a field service role unsuitable for a female. Evidently there is no reason why a woman couldn't do such a role or indeed be more effective in doing so than a male colleague.

This blog from Virgin Media also makes an interesting point on the flip side benefit of more female field technicians.

"Customers where so happy to see a female technician, especially as there’s an assumption that it is typically a male orientated role. Many female customers in particular, felt more comfortable having a female in their home completing the work."

What is your business missing out by not having more field service engineers? How do your customers feel about it?

What to do about it

There are many things that organisations can do to create better gender balance in field service. Here are some thoughts:

  • Develop mentors so that women who join your company have the right support when they get there
  • Consider networking groups that help to promote career development and opportunities for women
  • Review and adjust the recruitment process for your field service roles
  • Address work-life balance issues and take a look at your on-call, rostering and work allocation to ensure appopriate
  • Consider creating targets for hiring and retaining women technicians
  • Be clear on the equality change you are targeting and reinforce the change with metrics and accountability
  • Invest in training and change management to ensure that any gender-stereotypes are address amongst your field teams
  • Ensure your work culture has zero-tolerance for incivility and recognises all employees’ contributions
  • Make the change happen from the top down
  • Provide transparent paths with clear, fair criteria for mobility and advancement

I'm sure there are many many other ideas, so please get in touch to let us know your thoughts on this subject.

Get more help

Consulting is the backbone of Leadent Digital; it’s where we started and it underpins all the technology services we offer too. For us, it’s about really understanding the customer’s process and priorities, and making feasible, value-adding recommendations for field service improvement.

We can help you - reach out and let us know what we can do to support your next change programme.