What now for diversity after Britain divorces Europe?

Thursday 23 June 2016 is a day we will never forget for more than the obvious reason, writes Dawn Bonfield.

National Women in Engineering Day – in its third year on 23 June – continued to inspire an enormous amount of activity with men and women up and down the country encouraging young people, and girls in particular, to consider engineering as a forward thinking, solution creating career with which we can use our influence to play our part in making the world a better place. 

Men and women considered the evidence about how diversity makes us stronger as a team, increasing profit, productivity, balance and reducing risk. With the principle of inclusion being the path to increased diversity, we debated how to be a more inclusive culture that encourages team players that look and think differently and bring their own viewpoints to the table and what steps would be needed to be taken to affect this change.

At exactly the same time that these positive, open and forward looking conversations were taking place, it seems like the population of the UK were voting for the exact opposite. Diversity and inclusion were being shunned in favour of the opinion that we can do better with people who look and think like we do, who come from the same small island, and who have the same views and background as us. 

How ironic that these two vastly opposing viewpoints were being debated simultaneously, but how sobering and devastating that the narrow minded, non-inclusive and non-collaborative viewpoint won out.

So what does this mean now for diversity and inclusion in the engineering sector and how are we going to ensure that the principles that we have been working towards – of reducing stereotyping, offering equal opportunity to all, and encouraging diversity – continue to be pursued successfully? 

Our challenge is now as great as ever and we have to be strong as a sector in fighting to retain the diversity that we have enjoyed by working with our European colleagues – male and female – and ensure that these employees are protected and continue to be made to feel not only welcome but vital to our businesses. 

The diversity of thought that we enjoy through employing engineers from different parts of the world – creating solutions for everybody in the world – must continue to grow and we must find ways to demonstrate that – as an engineering community  at least – we are committed to inclusion.

Dawn Bonfield is chief executive of the Women’s Engineering Society.