IncEng: strengthening the voice of diversity and inclusion in engineering

Dawn Bonfield MBE CEng HonFIStructE FICE FIMMM FWES
& Dr Mark McBride-Wright CEng MIChemE

IncEng is a UK based network which aims to bring together the under-represented groups within the engineering sector to form an inclusive, informal and coordinated platform of likeminded stakeholders, who are able to gain strength in working together on common issues. Many groups exist within engineering which champion under represented parts of the workforce, such as women, black and minority ethnic workers, members of the LGBTQ community, and workers with dyslexia. Many other individuals within engineering do not have a coordinated voice, such as disabled workers, those from oversees, and older employees. IncEng aims to bring all of these under-represented groups together to form a stronger voice and to share resources and evidence, working together to achieve a coordinated outcome of improved diversity and inclusion within engineering.

Rationale

EngineeringUK [1] has identified that the UK has a major skills shortage needing an additional 182,000 engineers per year to 2022. This has spurred some UK organisations into action seeking to address this issue. It is becoming increasingly accepted by proactive organisations that creating a more diverse and inclusive sector is a key determinant in this.

The importance of diversity and inclusion in engineering is well understood by under-represented groups. Many groups and initiatives currently exist to represent and champion under-representation in engineering, and these groups work tirelessly to raise the profile of the problem within the sector and to find ways to ensure that diversity and inclusion are embedded into the fabric of the industry in a way that is impossible to ignore.

By 2019 the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) will have been campaigning for better gender representation for 100 years, and similarly WISE – Women in Science and Engineering – have been campaigning for over 30 years. InterEngineering advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) engineers and the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic (AFBE-UK) speaks up for BME minorities. It has become apparent that better collaboration between under-represented groups would be beneficial in order to share evidence, share best practice, agree on ways to measure, and goals to improve under-representation.

Engineering and technology has an additional dimension in that the design, engineering and technological solutions themselves need to be inclusive, and this is a subject of growing importance worldwide. Human factors and ergonomics are critical considerations for a design to be effective, and the earlier in the design chain they are considered, the better.

We propose that a new network is required to facilitate this collaboration: the IncEng. The goals of IncEng are to provide a single platform to:

  • Collate evidence to support the business case for diversity and inclusion in engineering
  • Collate statistics to support the need for action and measure improvement
  • Work collaboratively to establish common goals and joint actions
  • Prevent duplication of effort through better visibility of current work
  • Share best practice
  • Signpost the organisations working to support and represent under-represented groups
  • Provide a stronger voice that is composed of all under-represented groups
  • Foster collaboration with the wider field of diversity and inclusion which is extensive and advanced
  • Work with the Engineering Council to update UK SPEC to include the competence of Inclusivity into UK SPEC
  • Work with Professional Engineering Institutions to enable them to identify and promote best practice in engineering inclusion
  • Provide a single point of contact for umbrella organisations such as the Royal Academy of Engineering and EngineeringUK to reach all of the under-represented groups collectively to disseminate information

The lack of coordination in the engineering industry around diversity and inclusion is resulting in the unnecessary duplication of work and effort. For example, many groups recognise the need for an industry standard or kite mark that can be achieved to reward excellence in inclusive engineering. Without coordination we risk putting our efforts into the formation of two or three (or more) standards where collaboration to form one overarching standard would be far better. IncEng would provide the platform for this collaboration. It would allow groups to become equal partners and to avoid the ‘not invented here’ mindset where every organisation creates its own version of best practice thereby leading to a state of confusion for an industry which needs clarification and clear guidelines.

Engineering organisations should be focussed on inclusion as opposed to just diversity. Inclusion involves bringing together and harnessing all the diverse resources in a way which is beneficial for all. The Government Green Paper on the UK Industrial Strategy published earlier this year identifies 10 pillars [2] to which inclusion will add real value. Organisations need to focus on what adjustments are required to their organisational structure and ways of operating in order to become inclusive. Inclusivity in engineering is a relatively new concept and hence this is the ideal time for greater collaboration. We believe that establishing IncEng as a central and informal body to coordinate these efforts will lead to significant synergies and fast-track the adoption of an inclusive engineering industry forging real-change through collaborative action.

Proposed Activities

The activities being proposed at this stage by IncEng are:

  • A website signposting the various groups who are working in this space
  • A regular newsletter bringing the latest news on diversity and inclusion in engineering
  • An annual (or biannual) meeting to compare activities, and to keep in contact
  • An annual campaign that we can jointly sponsor and promote
  • A shared space where resources can be compiled
  • The potential to explore larger collaborative initiatives
  • The opportunity to provide training and to share details of training providers

Funding

Initially IncEng will be funded through the work of volunteers (Dawn Bonfield and Mark McBride-Wright), and will seek sponsorship in kind from the corporate sector or from Professional Engineering Institutions to provide meeting space.

Membership will be open and free of charge to those groups championing under-represented sectors of the engineering community.

If the workload to coordinate IncEng becomes too onerous, sponsorship will be sought from the corporate sector, or through the organisation of conferences which will aim to cover the costs incurred by the organisation.

If you’re interested in attending the inaugural IncEng meeting, please complete the form.

References
[1] EngineeringUK, “The State of Engineering”, 2016, URL: http://www.engineeringuk.com/research/engineering-uk-report-2016/
[2] UK Government, “Building our Industrial Strategy”, Green Paper, January 2017