How diversity in engineering can benefit the sector
Diversity in engineering can bring many benefits to the sector, Animesh Anand AIMMM, Engineering Lecturer at Chesterfield College, UK, Vice Chair of the IOM3 Ably Different group, and a member of the IOM3 Ethnic Minorities and Pride groups, discusses the importance promoting diversity and inclusion in engineering.
Engineers are problem solvers. We find problems and try to find solutions. Where we cannot find problems, we often create them. In a field that requires creativity, planning and critical thinking, some of our strongest assets can be our own experiences, while one of our biggest weaknesses in decision making can easily be an echo chamber.
Diversity in a workforce leads to better teams, cultures and solutions – as people experience the world in different ways, their processes change. Small variations such as how a person gets to work, all the way up to how someone was brought up, can lead to major differences in how people go about choosing options in their day-to-day lives.
Let’s assume that both individuals wake up at the same time, the person driving may have more time in the morning, allowing them to have breakfast and take time to prepare before leaving. The person taking the bus might have to leave much earlier, giving them less time to prepare at home, they might buy some breakfast on the way while walking to the bus stop, and despite arriving to work at roughly the same time, the person on public transport has had to make different decisions to just be at a location at the requested time.
If we extrapolate this out to diversity, for those who live a life problem solving throughout their daily existence, creative thinking can come much more naturally. I myself, being autistic, have to be careful of certain spaces, noisy situations and overstimulating circumstances. I am constantly solving problems that exist around me to mitigate the effect my surroundings can have on me.
Minority communities face different problems day-to-day – a study and strategy undertaken by Engineering UK shows that only 12% of the engineering workforce, and 8% of engineering apprentices, are women. Graduates from ethnic minority and migrant backgrounds are more likely to be unemployed six months after graduating than white engineering graduates, and only 9% of engineering students declared a disability or impairment compared to the national average of 14% in the UK. The shortcomings of the diversity of the workforce in engineering seem to show that minorities face problems in entering, existing and flourishing in the world of engineering.
So why is it important that engineering embraces diversity? Engineering is a role that is directly tied into the development of society, as society changes, so too must engineering to truly represent its interests. If society is becoming diverse, how can we as engineers still carry on claiming to truly solve problems for people if we do not understand and experience what people are going through?
Diversification of companies can also lead to a much broader introduction of talent, innovation and understanding. If your workforce is an amalgamation of cultures and viewpoints from different people, according to McKinsey, your company will tend to outperform competitors with a lack of diversity by an average of 25%, and those with diversity in leadership also tend to surpass rivals.
Outside of profit, the change in inclusion in companies also leads to the breakdown of stereotypes, which are harmful to the expansion of the engineering sector. If people view engineers to be a certain type of person, only those types of people would apply and enter the field, leading to an echo chamber of opinions. Differing opinions can easily be drowned out in favour of the majority, causing a decline in the individuality of engineers.
Unfortunately, one of the current barriers to the expansion of support is the lack of priority given to inclusivity. When projects can be worth hundreds of millions of pounds, the extracurricular sides of engineering, such as personal development, growth and inclusivity, can be pushed aside.
Equality and diversity training can itself be flawed as a system, with any mandatory training seen as a task to be pushed against. From working in education, it is clear to see that learners undertaking courses on diversity can easily learn how to pass, but can also easily learn how to avoid actually understanding the course. I have found that conversations and discussions as they occur naturally are much more engaging, in safe environments where people can air concerns, questions and queries and have those points discussed, expanded upon and explained.
Overall, solving the problem around problem solving requires diversity, as different ways of thinking are how inventions are made.