By Charlene Wheeless

​Charlene Wheeless is the principal vice president of Global Corporate Affairs at Bechtel​.

Women make-up nearly 40 percent of the world’s workforce but remain significantly underrepresented in the senior management and executive ranks of business organizations, including Bechtel. Bechtel Limited’s recently published ​"UK Gender Gap Pay Report 2017" provides an example of this disparity. At Bechtel Limited, our UK business, gender representation in the lower pay quartile is 58 percent male, 42 percent female; in the highest quartile, male and female representation is 88 percent and 12 percent, respectively. We are not alone. On average, women represent 45 percent of the workforce of S&P 500 companies, but only 11 percent of the top earners.  Worldwide, less than 19 percent of firms have a female top manager.    

Turning the tide is imperative.

At Bechtel, part of our overall approach is to continue our leadership role in increasing women representation in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Gender representation is a particularly large challenge in our industry. Currently, the percentage of women who work in the engineering and technology segments globally is in the single digits. As a company, and as an industry, we must ask Why?

Data shows that in primary education there is near gender parity in STEM, however, the number of females at the secondary level drops exponentially. Women continue to remain under-represented among college graduates with STEM degrees, for which the global gender gap stands at 47 percent, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Report. The study identifies​ several contributing factors to this disparity, including stereotypes, social attitudes, and lack of role models. For example, Girls Who Code research discovered high school girls in the U.S. are 30 percent less likely to study computing because of the lack of female peers in those courses.

One way Bechtel is working to shift the mindsets and stereotypes is through our partnership with MacGillivray Freeman Films and the American Society of Civil Engineers. Together we launched a first-of-its-kind IMAX® film Dream Big: Engineering our World, which showcases engineers—many of them women—who have changed the world. In 2017, the film was viewed by more than 1.5 million people in 15 countries. We have also created complementary resources that include activities, videos, and other tools for educators to use and share in classrooms and communities to inspire more young minds.

Bechtel is also partnering with organizations that create points of contact throughout the educational lifecycle (from elementary school through college) to ensure girls’ success in STEM. We’re seeing some positive results from these efforts, but we are not declaring victory. This is an ongoing process. True results will be measured by steadily increasing numbers of women in STEM careers, in management positions, in leadership roles, and in boardrooms.   

This is the first in a series of blog articles focused on addressing gender equality.