On 17 July the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) Diversity and Inclusion Working Group released a new report exploring social mobility within the UK’s chemical engineering sector. Social mobility and the chemical engineering profession in the UK presents findings of a survey taken by more than 1,700 IChemE UK members in October 2016. The research looked at the effect of factors such as parental occupation, childhood household income and education history on the careers of respondents, and offered a number of fascinating insights.
Scroll down to find out more about this research from Jacob Ohrvik-Stott, Policy Officer at IChemE.
Many of our results were in line with wider societal trends in social mobility. Members from families where at least one parent had attended university were more likely to have gone on to study at a top-ranked university, with the same being true for those with parents with jobs in the higher ONS classifications.
Other findings were less expected. Once at university the influence of family background and educational history softens, and seems to have little impact on members’ employment prospects. At this stage work experience proved a bigger predictor of members’ fortunes in the employment market after graduating: Those who had done at least one of a sandwich year, internship or summer placement were 17% more likely to have secured work as a chemical engineer within 6 months of graduating compared to those without such experience. This effect was even more pronounced for those with bachelor’s degrees than those with a master’s, further highlighting the importance of work experience in getting a foot on the career ladder.
Surveys can’t give us a definitive explanation of the root cause of this effect, and factors such as high academic performance and extracurricular activities may increase the likelihood of securing work both during university and afterwards. These findings nonetheless suggest that chemical engineering work experience is a priority for employers, when it comes to finding the best graduates, and we will be exploring ways to create more opportunities for our student members to access these experiences.
Social mobility is just one strand of a wider diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) strategy here at IChemE. As signatories of the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng)’s Diversity in Engineering Concordat and Science Council’s Declaration on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion we are committed to championing these values.
We see diversity as any aspect that differentiates individuals from one another, and we explore factors such as gender, age, LGBT+, ethnicity, disability and families and relationships in our work. A focus on inclusion helps us to look beyond indicators of diversity to consider the personal experiences of our members. Inclusion refers to the state of being valued, involved and respected, and is reflected by the culture in members’ organisations and the sector as a whole.
IChemE are involved in a range of DEI activities, and we collaborate with many like-minded institutions working in this space. As a participant in RAEng’s Diversity and Inclusion Progression Framework we will be contributing to a sector-wide diversity benchmarking exercise and looking at ways to improve DEI in our organisation and membership body. We have also recently established an internal Equality and Inclusion Forum to look at DEI within the IChemE head office, and the development of materials addressing unconscious bias is in the pipeline.
Much of the work progressing DEI comes from our membership body, and indeed this report was led by volunteer members in the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group. The group is just one part of a vibrant network of member-led task groups and online communities that collaborate on these issues.
The benefit of having our members involved in our work cannot be overstated. At its most basic level, a group of passionate volunteers enables us to increase the amount of projects we can deliver and shout more loudly about the impact of our work. More importantly, our members bring their individual experiences and considerable skills to raise the quality of our work and develop new programmes and initiatives.
IChemE’s members – chemical, biochemical and process engineers – work across a vast array of sectors in industry, academia and beyond. The range of insights this affords us is invaluable in understanding the barriers and opportunities facing chemical engineers. Without these ears on the ground we wouldn’t have a clear picture of the how our ever-changing sector looks in the here and now, and our efforts would probably be redundant without them.
Working with our members is a microcosm of what diversity and inclusion at IChemE is all about: Bringing everyone into the conversation to advance the chemical engineering profession together.