In my Facebook page today (yes, yes, admonishments taken) in the Sponsored links column, I was served the usual tedium of adverts but one caught my eye. "BAE Systems is hiring!" Well, they've got a couple of aircraft carriers and a few Astute subs to build, so I'd hope they're looking for good mechanical and electrical engineering talent. Quite how Farcebook picked me as a likely advertising target, who knows - perhaps that's why FB stock took a 2.74% bath today - but what caught my eye was the thumbnail picture. A smiling young Afro-Caribbean engineer in overalls - female persuasion.
Now I'm sure BAE Systems has a good number of female engineers in the UK. My top-end guess is 30% of the workforce. But the number of Afro-Caribbean female engineers is going to be tiny relative to the workforce size. So why are they using that as their hook? Anyone in engineering knows that engineers of Afro-Caribbean background are rare as hen's teeth. Against that, of course, is the natural result of aggressive filtering - those I know are almost invariably extremely good at their jobs and unwilling to put up with bullshit or sub-standard teaching.
Anyhow, curiosity piqued I click on the ad - and what do I get?
Firefox cannot find the server at wwwbaesystems.jobs.Yes, whoever set up this ad campaign spent lots of time ensuring the image displayed was appropriate diverse and gender-friendly, but didn't actually give it anything approaching a valid URL. OK, so I try www.baesystems.com/jobs and get "The page you were looking for has moved or no longer exists.". Nice one.
What I think they were trying to point to was www.baesystems.com/careers which does exist as a redirect to /careers-rzz. Checking the UK careers page I don't see any Afro-Caribbean faces, but I do see very prominent pictures of women in overalls and goggles.
Let's look at BAE Systems' Women in Engineering article:
"Becoming an engineer really happened by accident," says Jayne Bryant. "I had seen my older sister struggle to get a job as a mathematics teacher and though I really loved the subject, I looked at accountancy and computer science instead.Wow, way to big up the value of an engineering degree, BAE Systems - your top (female) engineering was a frustrated accountant who fell into software engineering by accident!
"GEC Marconi had started a course for aspiring Software Engineers and they were located just five miles up the road from me. What's more, they were offering to pay you for doing it, unlike accountancy, so that's what really made my mind up!
I do have a point with all this, I hope. BAE Systems, one of the biggest engineering firms in the UK, is trying to recruit female and minority engineers with a stereotypical "hey, look at the women and minority women in these pictures!" campaign, but can't take the time to ensure that the campaign even sends the interested parties to a valid URL. If this is the best they can offer to attract female engineers, I lose all hope.
Getting women into engineering starts way before they start looking for jobs as a B.Eng/M.Eng graduate. They need to be doing the right A-levels (Maths with mechanics, Physics) before they can even consider doing engineering. Guess what - half of the UK co-educational schools have no girls studying Physics. FFS. If BAE Systems is serious about wanting female engineers, and it should be, this is where they need to be intervening - talking to Year 10/11 students in the schools near BAE Systems sites about engineering as a career. This is true in spades for ethnic minority female engineers, by which I mean Afro-Caribbean, Hispanic, and Caucasian.
Yes, in the top-talent engineering roles for women, white, Hispanic and Afro-Caribbean women are under-represented, and Chinese and Indian women are over-represented. So it's nothing innate to the female mind that limits entry to engineering. We need to look at the devotion to education that Chinese and Indian parents have and hand to their children, and find some way to propagate that to students of other ethnicities.
Update: as of January 21st, this advert was still appearing, and the link was still broken. Fantastic.