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Time to tackle ethnic diversity in engineering

17 November 2015

So says the Royal Academy of Engineering in two new reports promoting ethnicity/race, sexual orientation and disability diversity in the sector.

While many UK engineering companies are already well engaged in driving better gender balance in the engineering profession, more work is needed in promoting ethnicity/race, sexual orientation and disability diversity, according to two new reports published by the Royal Academy of Engineering. The reports include:

Increasing diversity and inclusion in engineering – a case study toolkit, provides ideas and guidance on building diversity in the engineering profession. It includes 17 case studies from across the engineering sector, providing inspiration and highlighting best practice.

The report includes many examples where engineering companies are actively supporting diversity and inclusion through the development of staff networks, leaders and women; by reviewing their strategy and approaches; and measuring and monitoring the impact. Encouragingly, many organisations now address diversity and inclusion as a business imperative – to be addressed like any other area of business.

The Diversity and inclusion in engineering survey report 2015 provides a benchmark against which to measure future progress in improving diversity across the engineering sector. Jointly presented with findings from the Chartered Institution for Highways and Transportation’s survey of its corporate partners, it points to the need to focus on diversity in all its forms, as well as gender.

Of the companies surveyed, 96 percent anticipate difficulty in recruiting in the future and would like to broaden their recruitment pool; 83 percent see diversity as critical to enhancing their capacity for innovation and creativity and 76 percent see it as crucial to tackling the skills shortage.

While gender must continue to be a key area of focus, says the survey, the profession ought to do more to understand and address barriers that might inhibit other underrepresented groups from joining and remaining in the engineering profession. Extending the focus on diversity and inclusion activity beyond gender could be one way to further address the engineering skills shortage – the UK needs 1.8 million more engineers by 2020.

People from ethnic minorities make up 25 percent of the UK's primary school children, 25 percent of engineering graduates and 12 percent of the working age population but account for only around 6 percent of those in employed as professional engineers.

“Diversity work by engineering companies is having a positive impact, but there is still some way to go in developing truly inclusive workplaces," says Allan Cook CBE, chairman of Atkins and chair of the Academy’s Diversity Leadership Group. "It is encouraging to see work being done to address barriers faced by lesbian and gay people, and it would be good to see more in relation to ethnic minorities. We also need to become smarter at recruiting and retaining disabled people, and people from any background with the prerequisite skills.”

Dr Nelson Ogunshakin OBE, chief executive of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering, who chaired the working group that compiled the Academy’s new collection of case studies, says that creating inclusive cultures across engineering companies is critical not only to engaging, attracting and retaining engineers of all ages, but also in driving innovation and creativity. "Time and time again, it has been proven that greater diversity leads to increased innovation and creativity, and there is also a strong correlation with financial performance,” he adds.

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