During our November 2013 phone survey of 200 of the 500 top employers in the engineering sector, we asked recruiters’ opinions on the career prospects for women engineers.


We wanted to know whether discrimination goes on at the respondent companies, either in their hiring practices for management positions, or in terms of promotions offered to women.
According to 96% of respondents, all things being equal, recruiters prefer not to pass over a women for a management position in favour of a man. In fact, fewer than 4 % of respondents said they knew of recruiters who prefer to offer management positions to men rather than women. However, 2% of respondents admitted to having done so at least once in the last five years.    


When offered a management position, male and female engineers accept in equal proportions, i.e. in just over 80% of cases. Moreover, in the last year, three times more men than women turned down a promotion.

Table 1 - Reaction of male and female engineers to a promotion offer

Reaction of male and female engineers to a promotion offer

The reasons cited, by both men and women, for turning down a promotion include:

  1. family;
  2. responsibilities;
  3. lack of interest in the position.

Engineers cited the following additional reasons for refusing a promotion:

  1. salary;
  2. the management tasks involved, including HR management, as opposed to technical work.



In previous surveys, we noted that women engineers are slower to be promoted than their male colleagues. This prompted us to ask recruiters for their opinions on what they think holds women engineers back. Their answers fall into three broad categories: 

  1. work-family balance and maternity leaves were mentioned in 56% of cases;
  2. the “old boys’ club” mentality, prejudices and corporate culture were mentioned in 24% of cases;
  3. competencies and personality were mentioned in 16% of cases.



We then asked the recruiters what advice they would give to women engineers to help speed up their career advancement. Their answers fall into two broad categories: 

  1. Behaviour at work : close to 20% of answers relate to behaviour at work. Employers recommend that women engineers be more proactive by getting involved, widening their internal network (for example, by finding a mentor), informing their supervisor of their desire to advance, and seizing opportunities as they arise.
  2. Development of soft skills: more than 65% of employers recommend that women engineers work on their soft skills, i.e. their ability to assert themselves (employers used words like “sell themselves,” “try harder,” “step up”), and their self-confidence (“know their strengths,” “showcase themselves,” “assert themselves”).

Finally, fewer than 4% of employers recommend that women engineers improve their skills, e.g., by becoming bilingual or doing an MBA.


There appears to be no reluctance on the part of recruiters to hire women engineers for management positions. However, some employers said that the predominantly male mindset of certain companies tends to halt women engineers’ progression. They encourage women engineers to join internal networks, express their interest in management positions, and demonstrate their ability to do the job well.