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Everything to gain from inspiring inclusion in engineering and manufacturing





Opinion | Katy Davies, member of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority business board

The theme of International Women’s Day (8 March) this year is ‘Inspire Inclusion’, so what better opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come, what still needs to change and what we’ve learnt about inclusivity in our businesses and lives.

I’ve had the privilege of spending most of my career in this region in engineering and manufacturing – not a sector historically famed for its diversity and inclusivity. I’ve also been incredibly fortunate to have had positive experiences despite, early on, often being the only female in the room. Happily, things have come a long way since then!

Katy Davies, Member of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority business board
Katy Davies, Member of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority business board

However, the reality is that many women still face barriers, perceived or real, in pursuing careers in the sector. Creating an inclusive working culture is often not about employing dedicated diversity officers or creating dedicated programmes for women, but about creating workplaces that genuinely make everyone feel like they belong.

When I reflect on my own career, it’s often the small things that make the most impact. I’m not particularly tall, and ill-fitting PPE designed for the average manufacturing worker (who I don’t think is a 5ft tall female) was standard. A particularly fantastic stores manager made it their mission to find me PPE that actually fit – a seemingly modest act but exceptionally powerful and made me feel like I belonged in that environment. Moreover, it was recognition that my safety was respected. Being conscious of inclusivity can make the biggest difference in building inclusive workplace cultures.

One of the most pressing challenges is the persistent perception of engineering and manufacturing as a male industry. Encouragingly, ‘engineer’ polled second in a recent BBC Bitesize survey of 13-16 year olds’ most desired jobs. However, many young girls still view engineering and manufacturing as fields better suited to men. And the stats speak for themselves – women represent only 26 per cent of the manufacturing workforce, yet 50 per cent of the total labour force. This is where role models and visibility can play an extremely important part in shifting perceptions. For example, Cambridge University’s Institute for Manufacturing (IfM) has co-founded a national initiative to promote the visibility of role models to attract new female talent and create a network to support women already working in the sector.

This region has incredible names in manufacturing and engineering and, despite historical perceptions, opportunities for women are abundant. From world-changing technology and manufacturing at Paragraf, to advances in 3D printing and materials science at Photocentric, to rich histories of engine manufacture at Perkins and aerospace and defence at Marshall – each demonstrates a rich seam of female talent.

At the heart of inclusivity in the workplace – beyond gender alone – lies a simple truth: inclusivity is not just a moral imperative, it’s also a strategic advantage. Studies repeatedly show that diverse teams are more innovative, more productive, and ultimately more successful. By harnessing the full spectrum of talent that our region has to offer, we create opportunities for our residents and drive inclusive economic growth and prosperity.

So on International Women’s Day, let’s recommit ourselves to the cause of inclusivity. Whether through advocating for policies that promote workplace equality or simply considering the concept of workplace belonging, each of us has a role to play in fostering a more inclusive society. Let’s build a future where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to pursue their dreams, and where businesses and communities consequently thrive.



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