At the Royal Academy of Engineering, one of our key strategic priorities is to support the development of a world-leading and truly inclusive engineering workforce in the UK, something that we can only achieve if we increase both the numbers and the diversity of those choosing engineering careers.
We know that improving diversity is necessary but not sufficient. We also need to create and sustain inclusive cultures: cultures in which engineers from all backgrounds feel that they are welcome, valued, able to contribute to the full and to perform at their best. Cultures where no one experiences differential treatment, prejudice or discrimination based, for example, on their ethnicity or race.
Engineers play a hugely important role in shaping the world we live in, designing and delivering products, services and infrastructure that we all rely on. Accelerating progress on diversity and inclusion will bring benefits to both the profession and the public, from greater creativity and productivity, to increased awareness of risk and products better designed to serve the needs of people from all parts of society.
Black History Month has additional resonance this year. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on those from ethnic minorities and the Black Lives Matter movement has brought into sharp focus the racism and structural inequality in our society. These are issues for engineering as much as for any other profession.
The Academy was founded in 1976, the same year that the Commission for Racial Equality was established and only a few years after the introduction of the very first legislation in the UK to address racial discrimination - the Race Relations Act.
Racism becomes institutionalised when society fails to hold companies and other organisations to account for their actions. Sadly, many of the effects of institutional racism can still be felt today. The challenge is significant, and events of this past year show us that there is still much to do. It is a challenge that we commit to playing our part in tackling at the Academy through both striving to raise our own performance and working in partnership and in support of colleagues within the wider profession.
Only 9% of engineers in the UK are from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds despite 27% of first degree qualifiers in engineering being from these groups. Black engineering graduates are more than twice as likely to be unemployed six months after graduation than their white counterparts. For those that do secure engineering roles, our research has shown that Black engineers experience the workplace differently, reporting that assumptions are more likely to be made about them based on their ethnicity or nationality and that they are less likely to speak up about inappropriate behaviour in the workplace when compared to white counterparts.
A key part of our response to the less favourable outcomes for Black, Asian and minority ethnic engineering graduates has been our Graduate Engineering Engagement Programme, which aims to improve the transition of diverse talent into engineering roles. Of the 800 students who have participated in the programme to date, over 90% are Black, Asian or from minority ethnic groups.
Through our Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Group we also work with engineering employers to share best practice and co-create practical tools to promote inclusion in the workplace, including for Black, Asian and minority ethnic engineers.
Other aspects of our diversity and inclusion programmes are targeted at supporting professional engineering bodies and addressing our internal performance, which includes our grant making activity and our Fellowship processes.
These activities and our wider response are developed in partnership with others with relevant expertise and experience. In particular, we have benefitted from our longstanding relationship with the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers UK (AfBE-UK) who have led the way in raising awareness and catalysing action on this issue within the engineering community.
We have also just launched The Hamilton Commission. Lewis Hamilton became an Honorary Fellow of the Academy last year in recognition of his role in inspiring interest in engineering among people from all walks of life,and we were delighted to be asked to partner with him in establishing The Hamilton Commission to improve the representation of Black people in UK motorsport.
I was honoured to be asked to co-chair with Lewis our wonderful Board of Commissioners, who bring a wealth of experience, expertise and commitment to tackling racial injustice. This is a unique opportunity to drive transformational change on this crucial issue, and in the process to learn more about how we can enrich diversity in other parts of engineering and society.
The Hamilton Commission will undertake a range of activities to help inform the research findings. These activities will include data analysis, stakeholder mapping, a literature review in sport, education and employment, as well as in-depth surveying and analysis with youth focus groups and other key stakeholders. We will explore issues such as the lack of role models and career services at schools, and barriers that prevent people from more diverse backgrounds joining the motorsport industry.
This work will only examine challenges around STEM and the motorsport industry in the UK, but we hope where possible, the recommendations and actions from the research will be relevant internationally and to other industries.
Shining a light on data as we are doing through the Hamilton Commission can be a powerful tool to drive change, and we, as an Academy seek to hold ourselves to account too. We already publish data and information about our actions to advance all aspects of diversity on our website and will soon be publishing a report on the diversity data relating to our Fellowship, awardees, events and staff as part of our efforts to maximise transparency.
Based on the available data, the Academy Fellowship comprises 6.5% Black, Asian and minority ethnic engineers and we want to change that to better reflect the engineering profession. We have recently set ourselves the target to elect half of all new Fellows from groups currently underrepresented in the Fellowship. This is one of several measures we’re introducing to shape a Fellowship that is Fit for the Future by the time we celebrate our 50th anniversary in 2026. For us, a Fellowship that is Fit for the Future is a Fellowship that embodies the full breadth and diversity of engineering excellence.
We will continue to look for ways to improve the representation and experiences of Black people and other underrepresented groups in UK engineering. And we commit to working collaboratively across the engineering community to ensure that racism and prejudice do not determine people’s experience in the workplace, or their chances of entering or progressing within an engineering career.