If women won't get dirty, manufacturers need to clean up

I was at a CIPR leadership seminar recently and was treated to a number of excellent speakers who were focussed on the issues of ethics and equality in the PR industry.

I am likely to return to ethics later on but the equality issue was particularly interesting to me. Despite the PR industry being vastly dominated by women - according to CIPR stats 70 percent of us are female - there still exists a gender pay gap of some £8,000.

This is shocking to me who has worked in some very senior PR/comms roles in my career. To imagine that my male peers could be paid up to £8,000 more than me for the same role is hard to swallow.

In this infographic by the European Institute for Gender Equality, the UK is performing better than the average for the EU in reducing inequality between men and women, but we are way behind the likes of Sweden, Finland and Denmark. And in terms of economic power (measured by ratios of women to men on the boards of large companies) we are on a par with Bulgaria, Estonia and Romania!

For one of the world's supposed superpowers, the UK is performing badly in terms of our ability to maximise the potential of women in business. This must surely impact on the success of the UK as a whole?

It's a pretty well-known fact that there are few women who work in the fields of manufacturing and engineering and work I've done recently for the Women's Engineering Society has been to help them try to change things. We will be looking at new ways to attract women into an industry that is traditionally very male and regarded as 'dirty'.

I recently visited a client's manufacturing facility and was amused to see not a single woman in the whole place - quite a large facility too. They assured me that they would welcome women warmly but I can't help but think that some work has to be done to 'clean up' the image of engineering for this to be a reality.

I personally love being shown around engineering halls but hesitate to get too close to the machines because, frankly, I'm put off by the amount of grease and mess there always seems to be. But it doesn't have to be like that.

A few years ago I was privileged to take a tour around the facilities at Prodrive (best known for high-tech motorsports tuning and production) and believe me when I say you could, literally, have eaten your dinner off their floors.

Now it's not an easy thing to create such spic and span manufacturing facilities but it can be done. There's quite a bit online about clean manufacturing which focuses on the elimination of waste and often goes hand in hand with Lean. But there's some work to be done on the image too, if women and girls are to begin thinking about manufacturing as a viable career choice.

That said, perhaps what we really need is a fundamental culture change so that from an early age girls are encouraged to get dirty, take risks and be interested in how things work. Then all the grease in the world couldn't get in their way.