Could you please introduce yourself?
After studying literature and the management of cultural projects and events, and with an affinity for foreign languages, I joined Mecanic Vallée five years ago, as European project manager. Then, I became HR project manager before becoming the cluster’s Deputy Director, my current position in the cluster. I support member companies and organize collective actions on all HR-related issues, particularly: recruitment, training, the attractiveness of the mechanical engineering industry’s professions and training courses, raising the profile of Mecanic Vallée and its companies.
I also work with local authorities on the attractiveness of the region and the obstacles to employment (mobility, housing, spousal employment, etc.) and gender diversity and professional equality.
Could you please describe your organization in a few words?
Mecanic Vallée is a cluster, or SPL (Local Productive System), that has been created in 1999. It now has 200 members, including 160 companies, as well as training centres, research centres and economic development partners, spread across six counties and four main sectors of mechanical engineering activity: aeronautics, automotive equipment, machine tools and energy.
Could you give us some facts and figures, or a description of the status-quo related to the situation of gender equality in your country/region and/or sector? What are the challenges encountered?
In French industry, all sectors combined, there are only 29% of women according to the latest national statistics that I have read. In the professional branch of metallurgy, I believe it’s around 22% and the female profiles found in companies in the mechanical engineering industry are mainly in support functions (back office). There are therefore very few women with a technical profile in our professions, and this at all levels of study and including retraining. This is one of the major challenges of professional equality in companies: having as many women as men in scientific, technical and industrial training sectors and professions.
Professional diversity concerns everyone and is beneficial for all sectors. For example, encourage boys who would like to join training courses for health and social professions, in which there are conversely almost only girls.
Another important issue is to facilitate the career progression of women and allow them to access positions of responsibility.
Maternity leave should, for example, not limit the professional development of women. But to go further in gender equality in the workplace, men should be encouraged to share parental obligations, whether by taking paternity leave themselves (without being penalized either!) or by also adjusting their times to pick up the children. So, it would be a real step forward in society combining professional equality and work/life balance for all.
Moreover, equal pay has been enshrined in law for fifty years, but there are still inequalities of around 10%. So, there is really still a lot to be done there too on the culture of equality.
Finally, the fight against gender-based and sexual violence and the awareness of all companies on this subject is also a major challenge. In companies with 250 employees, there is a mandatory referent on this topic. But smaller companies shall deal with this topic too.
What levers do you see possible to address these challenges or to improve the situation you just described? Where do you see clusters playing a role in the process?
The first lever is to inform young girls about the existence of these professions, and to raise awareness among all the key players in careers guidance: teachers, principal education advisers in lower and upper secondary schools, as well as headteachers, careers advisers and the general public.
Another lever is to work with life-long education centres on vocational retraining. In this way, we can open up the field of possibilities at all stages of life.
To activate these levers, Mecanic Vallée relies on :
- People who have made a career change in our sector and who talk to female jobseekers. They do this during their working hours, demonstrating the commitment of the cluster’s companies to promoting gender equality in the workplace, in partnership with the French Agency for Employment.
- A network of mentors to raise awareness among young girls, as part of a partnership with the « ELLES bougent» association and schools. First and foremost, companies want to encourage their employees to get involved in this topic.
Mecanic Vallée coordinates this network of ambassadors. Mecanic Vallée, through its links with local training and education centres and in particular the “Campus des Métiers et des Qualifications d’Excellence Industrie du Futur”, is also offering young women studying technical subjects the opportunity to speak to schoolchildren, with the same aim of raising awareness.
Mecanic Vallée has also developed tools in partnership with the “Campus des Métiers et des Qualifications d’Excellence Industrie du Futur” and two organisations promoting scientific, technical and industrial culture, with financial support from the Occitanie Region:
- «La boîte à métiers Industrie du Futur (The Industry 4.0 Job Box)»: This fun and educational tool offers teenagers, who are starting to think about their career options, a role-playing game in which they take on the role of a professional from an industrial company or a mission leader and have to find out about the various stages in the creation and manufacture of an object, as well as the associated jobs, so that they can play an active part in their discoveries. More than 2,300 pupils and their teachers have benefited from this activity in the Mecanic Vallée area.
- «La visite virtuelle : Vivez l’expérience Mecanic Vallée ! (The Virtual Visit, experience Mecanic Vallée) » : A tool that reproduces a mechanical engineering company through its various departments (administration, purchasing & marketing, design, production, maintenance and logistics) to discover the professions and training courses by clicking on the characters and consulting interviews with professionals or students on sandwich courses, as well as videos of machines in operation and a video on the evolution of industrial professions thanks to digital technologies. There’s even a “gamified” trail to help you “get the Mecanic Vallée experience”! The cluster and its partners are offering the virtual tour to a wide range of young people and adults, and are providing training in the use of this tool to any organisations that wish to use it. The aim is to highlight the diversity of scientific and technical professions in industry and to counter gender stereotypes in the way science and technology are portrayed.
The issue of gender mainstreaming is a common thread in every tool created by the cluster, and this has enabled Mecanic Vallée to win the Coup de Coeur award from the « ELLES bougent» association and the FILEX award in the “feminization” category. Winning trophies highlights the involvement of companies in this area, gives them visibility and shows them that they are on the right track.
The role of the cluster is really to lead the network, provide information and raise awareness. On each theme, companies that have made a little more progress can share their good practices with companies that are in demand. As Mecanic Vallée has been running these collective awareness-raising initiatives for a long time, we can see that they have a real knock-on effect, in particular when companies are facing recruitment difficulties.
The cluster can also develop collective actions and partnerships that will benefit all companies, even the smallest, so that they can all get involved. For example, Mecanic Vallée, which has more small companies in its network, is promoting membership of the “ELLES bougent” association for its companies with fewer than 200 employees, so that even they can offer their female employees the chance to join its network of mentors to attract young girls to scientific, technical, technological and engineering fields and careers.
Finally, in order to act on the collective imagination and really anchor a culture of gender equality in companies, it seems to me to be really important that “women role models” in industry are given media coverage. The cluster is doing this at local level, but it would be useful to draw on well-known women in industry at national level to organise conferences, for example, on all the major issues relating to professional equality (recruitment, career management and development, pay, violence, etc.).
Do companies in your network face recruitment difficulties? Would you say that efforts to create (more) gender equality lead to solutions to overcome these difficulties and why?
Recruitment difficulties are due to the fact that there are not enough young people overall in industrial training and education courses. The vast majority are boys. So if we could attract more girls to these courses, that would go some way to solving the problem.
Today, we’re depriving ourselves of skills because girls don’t go into scientific and technical courses, and women who are retraining don’t choose industrial careers either. We need to inform them as well as the people who support them in their career choices.
Do you think that companies of your cluster, sector/ecosystem, region are aware of gender equality rules? If so, do they know how to comply with these rules? What could be helpful (trainings, webinars, reference person in the company, etc)?
Through its HR working group, Mecanic Vallée informs companies of their legal obligation to calculate and publish their professional equality INDEX if they have more than 50 employees.
For smaller companies that are not subject to these legal obligations, it is also important to help them in developing a culture of gender equality in the workplace by disseminating existing tools and offering training courses.
Would you say working on gender mainstreaming can bring solutions to other challenges you observe (retaining female HR in organizations by addressing issues such as equality in wages, work-life balance, fight against sexist acts ; populating rural areas, etc)?
Implementing gender equality initiatives within companies could not only help to retain employees, but also enhance the value of the sector and the company.
Finally, Mecanic Vallée is a cluster in a rural area, so as I said, we are working on other levers of attractiveness, such as mobility and housing, to make our region more attractive to companies.
Could you please describe why gender equality is important for you personally and/or for your organization?
The cluster has been working on gender diversity and equality for over ten years. Our member companies have been very enthusiastic about this issue and are willing to work on it with the support of the cluster. That’s why we’ve launched collective actions and organised events on this topic, but it’s really up to the companies to get started.
The cluster is convinced that this is the right direction to take and is leading by example. That’s why I’ve just been appointed deputy director after returning from maternity leave. The issue of equality between men and women in industry is embodied in this example, which shows that maternity leave and career progression are compatible.
What would be your closing word? Your main message on advancing gender equality approaches in companies/clusters/public authorities/governments?
The cluster can offer support to small businesses so that they too can take action to promote gender equality. By raising awareness and taking collective action, a knock-on effect is created between companies and they are given the means to get involved and take action.
Working on the issue of gender equality in the workplace is not just about the professional world, but over a number of years, this will have a positive influence on the development of society as a whole!