Engineering needs to talk about inclusion

inclusionEngineering might not be a ‘go to’ profession for people from underrepresented backgrounds, but with real effort issues around inclusion could be reversed, says Dr Mark McBride-Wright CEng MIChemE, founder & MD of EqualEngineers

UK engineering professionals believe the skills shortage is the biggest issue impacting the sector in the years ahead, and this is of little surprise to decision makers in the industry.

The findings of a survey by MPA poses complex questions, and whilst there is no magic bullet to the skills shortage issue, to stay at the forefront of engineering, we need to entice the brightest and best. This means offering openings to those who would not ordinarily see engineering as a ‘go to’ profession.

Survey reveals expected impact of skills shortage

For instance, ask yourself what the typical engineer looks like and you will see that therein lies a problem.

Engineering organisations need to raise the profile of anyone within their business who comes from a minority group and who is willing to step forward and be a role model to open the diversity debate.

This is especially important for hidden identities e.g. disabilities, sexual orientation, and mental health.

As a gay man myself, but also an engineer, I’m acutely aware of the issues. That is why EqualEngineers came into existence, and next month we will be launching the inaugural Engineering Talent Awards which not only recognises high-achieving engineers from diverse backgrounds, but also challenges organisations on what good practice looks like through real life case studies, which are having impact.

We need to challenge society’s stereotypes. For example, aspiration of what you can be starts from a very young age and can be dependent on who you are being influenced by.

Children as young as six have pre-determined what they can be based on gender stereotypes from what they have been exposed to through the media, the toys they play with and the innocent micro-inequities perpetuated by well-intended adults/ influencers in their lives. 

There is a critical need to work with teachers and parents who influence young people on what engineering is and who can be an engineer – we need to “influence the influencers”. 

I believe engineering employers working on large scale projects or in project consortia should make a conscious effort to be creative in how they engage with minority groups, which are underrepresented in engineering locally on projects. For example, recruitment sessions at a local mosque – offering work-shadow opportunities through local LGBT youth groups, working with local self-help charities to enable employment and so on – can make a huge difference.

The white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, able-bodied male engineer needs to understand the role they play in creating inclusive cultures

EqualEngineers has specifically established such relationships across the cities where we run our careers fairs to get that richness of backgrounds as potential talent into our industry.

So, let’s get engineering organisations to raise the profile of great role models who belong to a minority group and who are willing to step forward and demonstrate that different is normal.

We will not get anywhere fast until the male-majority understand the need and importance of inclusion. The white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, able-bodied male engineer needs to understand the role they play in creating inclusive cultures. The diversity debate has been very polarising to date, so much so that this tranche of the engineering workforce feels disenfranchised as apparent perpetuators of inequity. We need to get introspective and understand our own diversity story. What adversity or trauma have we been through? What have our colleagues been through? How have we supported them? Did we support them? Do we even know what they’re going through? Or does our culture prohibit us from talking to one another about personal things? Who can I talk to in a time of need?

Inclusion is about creating a sense of belonging in the workplace and building a culture where psychological safety plays a crucial part in our identity, enabling teams to flourish through an openness that has historically been unavailable to date.

For instance, the male suicide rate in UK construction and manufacturing is the highest by sector, and so I believe the opportunity which exists is through fusing together our efforts on health, safety and wellbeing with equality, diversity and inclusion.

A diverse workplace opens minds, giving windows into different socio-economic group cultures and values structures.

So let’s get on with solving the conundrum of an intergenerational workforce, with baggage from the past, to one of accepting challenge and critique from new people. We also need to get comfortable with getting uncomfortable as we learn about new identities who have not been commonplace in engineering to date.

Engineers are good at solving problems, and together with a positive and concerted effort, we can solve our diversity and culture lag as well.

 Dr Mark McBride-Wright CEng MIChemE is founder & MD of EqualEngineers