EqualEngineers’ research into suicide rates in male construction workers points to a need for change in the industry
Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 50, and male construction workers are almost four times more likely to take their own life than those working in any other industry or profession. The situation is bleak – particularly among the engineering and technology industry, where men comprise more than 89% of the workforce and more than one in five in this sector reporting that they have lost a colleague to suicide.
These findings were uncovered by EqualEngineers in its Masculinity in Engineering survey in 2019. The organisation was set up to make the engineering and technology sectors more diverse and inclusive, because this is proven to increase performance, growth and innovation as well as improve health, safety and wellbeing. EqualEngineers hopes to increase the sector’s diversity by connecting inclusive employers with diverse talent in the sector, and through providing training, consulting, recruitment and events.
The 2019 survey also showed that more than one in ten respondents expressed an opinion that men should view women as property or objects; or express themselves through aggression (verbal, physical or sexual). Building on these findings, EqualEngineers ran a second survey from October to November 2021. It explored whether the culture of engineering is affected by the stereotype of what an engineer should be, and how men are expected to behave. Do men feel included or excluded in the push to increase diversity? And why do men feel pressure to behave a certain way in the workplace? Are men able to be open about their mental health challenges, or is the stigma too great? Does this manifest itself as a macho culture in the workplace or on-site that prevents an inclusive culture?
The Masculinity in Engineering surveys are the brainchild of EqualEngineers Managing Director Dr Mark McBride-Wright, who set up the company after years of working in the sector. As a gay safety engineer, he understands not only the challenges the lack of diversity can bring, but also the risks: “For me, inclusivity in the workplace is a health and safety issue. If you are not being able to be open about who you are, the attitudes and a lack of diversity around you can lead to mental health issues and decreased wellbeing.
“Our 2018 research found that one in five engineers had lost a work colleague to suicide, and a similar number had self-harmed or had suicidal thoughts themselves. We need to rapidly overhaul the way in which we approach culture change programmes within our industry, and we need to ensure everyone feels included, and is able to find their voice as part of the diversity narrative.”
Dr Rhys Morgan, Director of Engineering & Education at the Royal Academy of Engineering, agrees: “It is vitally important that we try to capture the voices of everyone working in engineering as we work to create a more inclusive profession. Engineering has a first-class reputation for creating a culture where safety is at the heart of what we do, and we now need to extend this to consideration of psychological safety.”
Simon Blake OBE, Chief Executive of Mental Health First Aid England, believes the research will help shape workplace policy and recruitment: “This survey will help develop understanding of the impact of gender expectations on men in the engineering profession so everyone can thrive and get the help and support they need, when they need it.”
The results from the EqualEngineers Masculinity in Engineering survey will be released in spring 2022.
Sign up at equalengineers.com to read the results of the 2021 survey
To read the 2019 report, visit: bit.ly/EqEngMasculinityReport