Thomas Marks, Secretary & General Manager at the Association of Electrical and Mechanical Trades (AEMT), looks at the challenge of improving diversity in engineering.
Despite a heavy focus on encouraging greater inclusivity in the workplace and levelling the gender pay gap over recent decades, diversity in engineering remains stubbornly poor. I know this from personal experience because whenever we look to recruit new Council Members, there appear to be very few women in any leadership roles within the AEMT membership. Sadly, this does seem to echo the wider industry norm, whereby women, black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups are underrepresented in a broad range of technical disciplines. And this problem is, of course, further compounded by the fact that there is an overall shortfall of engineers and technicians with the required core skills, creating a desperate need for new talent.
However, diversity is about far more than simply recruiting female staff members or those from the BAME community; it is about creating a mix of different backgrounds, cultures, and ways of thinking.
And there are clear business benefits to be gained from a diverse approach to recruitment. For example, encouraging workers from more varied areas of society will give an increased choice of skilled workers. A breadth of backgrounds, cultures, and experiences also offers broader perspectives for problem-solving and creative thinking tasks. At the same time, customer service can be improved when staff from a wide range of backgrounds better understand the needs of a diverse end-user base. And, of course, a more inclusive work culture will lead to increased productivity.
At the AEMT, we are focused on improving this situation among our membership. We are trying to make a difference by encouraging member companies to become involved with organisations and initiatives supporting diversity in the STEM sector. One example is the WISE Campaign, which focuses on making a sustainable difference to gender balance in STEM roles. The Royal Academy of Engineering is also heavily focused on diversity and has several initiatives crossing industry and academia.
We have also introduced a new category to the annual AEMT awards – Diversity in Engineering. This new award will be presented to an organisation, company, individual or team that has delivered a scheme, project, or initiative that significantly contributes to the enhancement of equality, diversity, and inclusion in their place of work. We hope that the introduction of this award recognises existing activity and helps to draw attention to, and drive a focus on, diversity among the AEMT membership.
But creating an environment conducive to developing a diverse workforce does require the talent to be available. And this is where a large part of the challenge lies – encouraging our young people into engineering. This is an ongoing problem for a number of reasons. There is a lack of role models in engineering, and daughters particularly get little support from their parents to encourage them into engineering. And then looking at diversity more widely, cultural differences may mean engineering is not recognised as a path to success.
Again, there are initiatives designed to encourage and support young people on a path towards an engineering career. One such project, Primary (and Secondary) Engineer works with young people from early years settings through to further education and supports the students and the educators. It does this with significant support from and involvement with industry. While not specifically focused on diversity, its activities are entirely inclusive and aim to encourage engineers from all cultures and backgrounds.
So, it is clear that there is much activity aimed at driving diversity in engineering, but more needs to be done. And if the engineering community is to benefit from a young, inclusive workforce coming through, then it is incumbent on all of us to do what we can in support.