The engineering profession is striving to attract, recruit and retain people across the UK from all backgrounds, primarily in response to the well-documented shortfall of skills. Back in 2011, the Royal Academy of Engineering set out on a journey to increase diversity and inclusion (D&I) across engineering.
This is the story of the approach we took, what we have achieved, challenges to delivery and next steps.
The engineering skills crisis and changing UK demographics make action to increase D&I imperative. Statistics on the underrepresentation of women in engineering are well known. Less well known are statistics on the representation of other groups such as black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people. While they make-up 14% of the UK population, predictions are that this will increase to 20-30% by 2050. Within engineering, BAME people make up 24.5% graduates and 6-7% of professional engineers.
The underrepresentation of women has spurred a plethora of initiatives; including outreach to schools (often targeting girls) delivered by over 600 organisations. To avoid duplication of effort we decided the Academy could best add value by concentrating on the recruitment and retention of diverse engineers, and the professional institutions (PEIs) that register them, including BAME, disabled, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, different age groups and people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Collaborative working is at the heart of programme delivery. In 2012, we worked with the PEIs to develop an Engineering Diversity Concordat bringing all 35 PEIs together to communicate commitment, take action, monitor and measure D&I progress. This was closely followed by formation of a Diversity Leadership Group of around 40 engineering companies in 2013, providing a platform for engineering employers to work together to increase D&I.
Alongside these two platforms, in 2014, we initiated another employer collaboration to deliver a 3-year pilot project, to increase the transition of ethnic minority, female and socially disadvantaged students into engineering employment in response to graduate employment outcomes research.
The first phase of the programme concluded in 2016 with the publication of a report, which includes our strategy for the next four-year phase.
We have come a long way in the last six years. In numbers:
- Company membership of our employer group has risen from 40 to 60.
- 30 of the 35 PEIs are signed up to the Engineering Diversity Concordat
- Almost 300 students have been through our graduate engagement programme steered by 13 engineering employers
- 6,799 engineers have responded to a recent survey about the inclusiveness of engineering workplace culture
We have also:
- Raised the profile of LGBT engineers
- Developed a toolkit for increasing D&I across engineering
- Published a booklet entitled ‘How many engineers does it take to make a tin of baked beans?’, showcasing engineers from a range of backgrounds – especially ethnic minority
- Developed a D&I progression framework for professional bodies, developed in partnership with the Science Council
Challenges to delivery
Delivering our programme has not been without challenges. There are a number, but the four we are most mindful of addressing are:
Measuring outcomes – it is difficult to quantify progress unless the current situation can be quantified. Whether it be the proportion of ethnic minority people at senior levels in organisations, or insight into recruitment outcomes for different groups, without quantitative and/or qualitative data, it is difficult to identify and address salient issues.
Beyond gender – most will agree that no individual has a single point of identity and women are not a homogenous mass. Being a woman is accompanied by many other characteristics including ethnicity, age, disability/ability, etc. the combination of which result in different experiences for different women. This is highlighted in the latest report examining academics’ experiences of gender equality in STEMM (the second ‘M’ being Medicine). Extending focus beyond the traditional confines of gender continues to challenge a wider approach.
A culture change programme – traditionally, efforts to increase D&I in engineering have primarily centred on campaigns – mainly in relation to women. These campaigns are absolutely essential but should be part of a wider long-term D&I strategy to improve organisational cultures, making them supportive of not only women, but all groups within organisations. Although the need for a broader approach is catching on, vigilance is needed to ensure the profession moves out of its comfort zone, and develops language and confidence to include other groups.
Involving everyone – the work of D&I is often seen as most relevant to women and minority groups – reflected by audiences at engineering D&I events, which tend to be mainly women. There is now wide consensus that everyone needs to be involved in facilitating change. Finding ways to make white men equal partners in the D&I journey will be a key focus in the months ahead because without them, especially those in leadership positions, change will be difficult to achieve.
The journey ahead
Our future plans are broad and ambitious, but the bullets below give a flavour of what we plan to deliver over the coming weeks and months:
- A collective PEI benchmarking (against the progression framework); and employer benchmarking exercise, building on the report delivered in 2015, to measure and assess progress
- Delivery of a report in summer 2017 on the culture of engineering and what can be done to make it more inclusive
- Development of inclusive recruitment guidance to encourage adoption of good practice, and procurement guidance to leverage supply chain D&I
- The publicity of measures to encourage consistent tracking of D&I activity.
- Delivery of our annual plenary event on 6 September to celebrate, share and consult with stakeholders. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in attending.
The advice I’d give any professional association embarking on a journey to improve D&I is to use the Progression Framework as reference for discussing what that might mean for them, to assess where they are now and use it action plan and make progress.
For more on our D&I Programme, please visit www.raeng.org.uk/engdiversity
Bola Fatimilehin, Head of Diversity
Bola will be presenting the Academy’s diversity framework at our June conference. Come along to learn more and take part in an interactive workshop.