Yohanes Scarlett, Policy and Research Advisor at the Academy discusses the importance of Inclusion for successful D&I work.
When speaking about D&I, you can be forgiven for focusing on the D (diversity). After all, many D&I strategies start and end with discussions about the need to increase diversity and representation through the various levels of the organisation. Conversations seem to always drift towards the need for more role models and the second word, the I (inclusion), is often taken for granted. Almost as if by increasing diversity, inclusion will naturally follow.
This is a mistake. Without inclusion in the workplace, diversity efforts will fail. Staff from underrepresented backgrounds may well join an organisation and just as quickly leave if they do not feel included in the company’s culture. Those who do not leave may begin to display presenteeism, low levels of motivation and productivity. Avoiding this is especially important for engineering. The profession must not only reach out to new audiences to address the engineering skills gap, but also recognise the important role inclusion plays in ensuring safe environments.
Research carried out by the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2017 found that engineers who feel more included are more likely to speak up about safety concerns, a fact that can only be positive for the profession. Beyond this, the report found that inclusion was important for retention, with engineers who felt more included more likely to see a future for themselves within the engineering profession. Other personal benefits of inclusion for individual engineers were identified, including increased motivation, performance, and commitment to their organisations.
The Academy commissioned the ‘Creating cultures where all engineers thrive’ 2017 report to investigate the culture of engineering to understand if, and where, improvements may be needed to ensure the profession was able to capitalise on the benefits of increased diversity. The study involved over 300 engineers in focus groups, which informed a project survey that attracted 6,799 responses from people working in UK engineering roles, or on engineering projects.
The survey found nine common themes that describe the culture of engineering in the UK. Some of these were positive: problem-solving, safety-conscious, proud, loyal, team-oriented and flexible. However, the survey also found three themes in the culture that can make it feel less inclusive: with some describing the culture as friendly, but impersonable, as having a strong attachment to tradition, and as providing a lack of support and clarity on career development. The survey also found that women and Black, Asian and minority ethnic engineers experience the culture as less inclusive than the majority of male and white engineers did.
These were all important findings for the profession, but just the beginning. Armed with the knowledge of the current culture of engineering, the Academy worked with engineering companies to produce a variety of toolkits and resources to challenge the issues and help foster a more inclusive profession. The Academy’s ‘Inclusive cultures toolkit’, was well received across the profession, and provided guidance on the main activities involved in creating and maintaining inclusive cultures within organisations. The Academy also produced a ‘Majority allies’ resource’, aimed at offering support to those who wish to be an ally and to support organisations who may wish to have an allies programme or support allies within their organisation. The 2017 report also led to a “Creating Inclusive Cultures: Team workshop series” that included a set of ‘out-of-the-box’ training modules designed to be run by an engineering project leader or manager when a team or group first come together to foster inclusive team working and achieve stronger outputs as a result.
A lot has changed since 2017. The benefits of increased inclusion discovered by the Academy have been validated beyond the engineering profession, and the benefits of inclusion are now widely known. Research looking at the business case for D&I, has shown that “companies with inclusive talent practices in hiring, promotion, development, leadership, and team management generate up to 30 percent higher revenue per employee and greater profitability than their competitors”. This new awareness has not solved everything however, and in the years since the 2017 report, the world has seen huge cultural shifts brought about by movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, which have led to a whole new focus on workplace cultures.
Five years on, we want to know what has changed. We are calling upon everyone, from the widest range of voices of the profession, to help us understand what engineering culture is now. Have your say.
If you have any questions or would like to find out more about the project, you can get in touch.
Policy and Research Advisor
Diversity and Inclusion