For many years, the engineering profession has been talking about diversity – or, more to the point, the lack of it.
Despite a whole series of initiatives and plenty of goodwill, what has actually changed?
The profession has long highlighted the lack of women in the profession – yet only 9 per cent of professional engineers are female.
We continue to see BAME engineering graduates disappear from the profession – 25% of engineering and technology first degrees are awarded to people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, yet only 6 per cent of people in professional engineering roles are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
We know that a huge swathe of the current engineering crew is getting older and near to retirement.
Yet what is the UK government, employers and stakeholders doing to address this issue?
I turned up at the Royal Academy of Engineering, ready for answers.
6th September 2017 saw the launch of a report entitled ‘Creating cultures where all engineers thrive’. 6,799 engineers were surveyed – and here are the key results.
As we might expect, white male engineers feel that the culture of engineering is more inclusive than female engineers who in turn feel it is more inclusive than engineers from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
And there are three key barriers to progress:
- The ‘inclusion privilege’ – those who are included are less likely to take action
- No crisis of inclusion – why should engineering firms bother?
- Inclusion is complex, personal and often intangible – and this goes against the process nature of engineering
Now this is good stuff, and clearly stops inclusion from happening; and organisations need to be tackling this now.
But even if engineering solved the inclusion issue, the biggest issue still remains representation. There just aren’t enough female and BAME engineers.
I heard that ‘diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance’. Now I can’t see much dancing going on if the engineering firms don’t start to change the balance of men, women and ethnicity in their employment.
Yes, a greater focus on inclusion will make engineering a more attractive proposition for female and BAME engineers – and this is a great report to make organisations focus more on getting their own house in order; but surely there also needs to be a more radical approach to recruitment and resourcing.
Take a look at apprenticeships. A huge area of focus for engineering firms – and in part because of the government levy. Sadly most organisations are really struggling to recruit girls into apprenticeships.
Now this is one area where real progress could be made now. But are we doing enough? Are we thinking creatively about how to do this? Are we tearing up the usual job specs and recruitment practices to make this happen? Or is it that we just don’t care enough?
You can read the full report here. Special thanks to the Royal Academy of Engineering for inviting me along.