Keep up momentum on diversity or risk being seen like the Oscars, engineers told

Engineering risks being viewed like the Oscars as being out of touch with society it fails to do more to increase a more diverse workforce employers were warned today.

Speaking at the launch of an ACE report into diversity and inclusion, chief executive of the RAE Philip Greenish said the fact that there had been an outcry at the all white shortlists in the recent oscar nominations showed how society's attitudes had changed. He said that there had been a sea change towards diversity and inclusion in recent years and that the  engineering profession has been seeking to lead that change but that it must keep up the momentum to remain relevant in the society's eyes. "Arguably its one of the most important issues facingh engineers today.  You only have to look at the skills gap - we're missing out on large cohorts of the population who don't look at engineering."

Greenish welcomed publication of the report:"Diversity and inclusion is not a nice to have, or an add on it’s a business imperative,” he said. 

Diversity & Inclusion – Marginal or Mandatory? outlines a step-by-step strategic guide to spur progress towards greater diversity and inclusion and is based on interviews with 30 industry leaders.

The message was echoed by  Arup’s John Turzynski, immediate past president of ACE . “ We ar in competition with other industries – we ‘ve got to attract talent for the sake of the industry’s future.

Also speaking at the event, Michelle Hicks( pictured), an assistant engineer with WSP Parsons Brinkerhoff and a recipient of the ACE’s Young Professional Under 35 Award, said that the profession and employers needed to be doing more to attract a younger generation which involved changing the views of parents and society. “I think it would be easier to do that if we could protect the title engineer, like other countries," she said.

Hicks said she did not advocate quotas to increase diversity and inclusion, but that tackling unconscious bias was absolutely essential. 

Hicks said it was also key that more people remained in the profession, and support for parents coming back from maternity or paternity was essential - including flexibility to work from home.

Earlier in the week, Rail Minister Claire Perry said infrastructure and engineering organisations should to follow the example set by Crossrail and attract more women into the industry.

Women make up nearly a third of the workforce on Crossrail, the largest construction project in Europe. By comparison, across the construction industry, just 11% of employees are women, including those in office-based roles, and only 6% of engineers are female.

The report focuses on 10 tangible and realistic strategies that could be adopted to foster diversity and inclusion. “Our report examines best practices in the areas of transformational leadership, business foundations, staff wide knowledge, flexible work parameters, as well as sourcing recruitment and nurturing career progression,” said ACE chief executive Nelson Ogunshakin.




Unfortunately when the client wants it tomorrow, as is typical in the British experience, the risk created by a client's lack of planning is heaped on industry, which is forced to respond with long working hours; tough deadlines and demanding & often confrontational environments. # Flexibility, nurturing and inclusion fly out the window and along with it the chance of recruiting whole strata of potential employees. # If we want change then we need projects to be delivered like Crossrail. That will require detailed planning; reasonable programmes and proper funding. In other words Industry needs to start turning round to their clients and saying no. Rather than bending over backwards and fighting over every scrap of work for minimal profits Industry is simply going to have to lay down the law and tell the clients categorically that their expectations are unrealistic. # If Industry is to protect its future, it needs to change its working practices and this means acting in unison to enforce a culture change amongst the client base. We are talking about unionising firms and ensuring contracts are priced, bid and negotiated within Industry accepted tolerances: that protect employees and ensure the flexible, nurturing and inclusive environments we want are maintained. That means no more unrealistic bids. No buying jobs. If we want to protect our jobs, grow and thrive we need to act together.
I am all for creating opportunity and for explaining to clients when their expectations are either unrealistic or unreasonable. That is wholly different from creating an artificial, protected species. Look at the unemployment figures in countries with regulated pricing and over-protected work forces. We are in a global market where much of what we do will soon be done by machines. What we must do is plan thoroughly, stick to our prices and claim for the extra work created by others but let us not fall into the trap which killed British industry.