Where are the women?

Anita Caldwell, Senior Search Consultant at RMG

It would be wrong to say that women are entirely unrepresented in the Chemical industry.  In my 15 years of recruiting at management and director level in this sector, in areas such as finance, HR, R&D, supply chain and business development, for example, I see huge numbers of very well qualified, highly skilled female applicants, and that their presence in the boardroom is growing.

On the operations and engineering side, however, it is a different story.  For a recent senior operational management role, we had only one female response in more than 100 applicants, and none in the shortlist.  This is a real shame – a female presence in this area can bring a different and valuable dimension to developing and leading teams.  And, of course, a successful business depends on getting the best people for the job, regardless of gender.

This under-representation isn’t the result of any ‘glass ceiling’ or male conspiracy – rather, it is to do with life choices, whether these are genuinely desired or simply what is expected.  Women have traditionally been put off by the perception of the industry as dirty, dusty, unhealthy and dominated by males.

Fortunately, chemistry is starting to change its image.  By opening up the application of the science to schools, and by emphasising the ways it has changed and its importance to huge swathes of the UK’s manufacturing and industrial sectors, more and more girls are getting into chemistry at an early age. The chemical industry is crying out for talented apprentices, and a concerted effort should bring a rich seam of determined young women and men with the skills and ambition to make an impact on the chemical industry.