Engineering culture in the UK needs to accelerate its drive to become more inclusive if the UK is to continue to be a key player in the global race for engineering skills, according to a new report from the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Inclusive Cultures in Engineering 2023 provides commentary and analysis of the results of research commissioned by the Academy to better understand how engineers perceive the current culture of the engineering profession and whether it is attracting, developing and retaining the number and diversity of engineers we need. The report explores the relationship between culture, inclusion and diversity and, in particular, intersectional data from underrepresented groups.
Nearly seven million employees work in engineering in the UK and the responses of the 1657 engineers and employers who participated in the research indicate that engineers feel pride in their profession with eight in ten (81%) keen to promote it as a career.
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The increasing role of positive action policies and programmes may also be having a positive effect. Through exploring intersectional data, respondents who identified as both LGBTQ+ and Black, Asian or minority ethnic, and those with a disability and who are Black, Asian or minority ethnic agreed that diversity had improved in engineering (87% and 88% respectively).
However, when it comes to making engineering more inclusive, the sector needs to work more innovatively and collaboratively to ensure the profession is fit for the future. Although three-quarters of engineers surveyed believe that inclusion in engineering has improved in the past five years, underrepresented groups are less likely to view the culture in this way.
The research highlights different facets of what an inclusive culture across the engineering profession looks like along with the values and behaviours that can either enable or inhibit the development of an inclusive culture.
Inclusive working environments in engineering support creativity through collaboration and cooperation, are accepting of diverse views, and develop innovative solutions to problems whilst being informed by evidence. While there are ‘microclimates’ of inclusion, their crucial growth is impeded because of barriers to inclusion that persist. Reported ‘masculine’ and ‘macho’ culture remains prevalent in certain parts of the profession, along with siloed working and fear of calling out harassment and other bad behaviour or of speaking up more generally.
Underrepresented groups continue to report experiencing a profession where microaggressions are overlooked, and bullying, discrimination and harassment still occur. Overall, one in three engineers (35 %) who responded to the survey had experienced bullying and harassment. However, when exploring intersectionality within the data this figure went up to 70% for those who identified as both LGBTQ+ and Black, Asian or minority ethnic, and also for those who are Black, Asian or minority ethnic and have a disability.
Louise Parry FCIPD, Director of People and Organisational Development at Energy and Utility Skills and Chair of the Inclusive Cultures Advisory Group, said: “Building and sustaining inclusive cultures is key to the attraction, development, and retention of engineers in the profession, and this requires clear investment in, and leadership of, inclusion. It is great that three quarters of the engineers we spoke to feel that the culture of engineering has improved in the past 5 years. However, it is clear we have a long way to go. It is unacceptable that there is anyone working in our profession who feels unable to bring their authentic self to work. People need to be able to fully bring to bear their individual skills and perspectives to help tackle our many engineering challenges.
“Employers, professional institutes, and the Academy itself all have a key role to play in addressing this. The recommendations the report calls for are essential if we are to make engineering a truly inclusive profession to work in and for UK engineering to continue to be a key player in the global race for engineering skills.”
The report’s recommendations for cultivating a more inclusive profession are grouped under four themes: improving the culture of inclusion; nurturing a sense of belonging; tackling bullying, harassment and discrimination; and improving retention and success. Recommendations are for the engineering community as a whole with some more suited to engineering industry, organisations, and bodies.
Among the report’s recommendations is a call for the profession to emphasise the relationship between inclusive cultures and safety. Engineering companies, institutions and other bodies should also be more transparent about diversity data across their organisation, including at leadership and governance levels, and should do more to showcase their progress towards an inclusive culture.
The Academy is acutely conscious of its own responsibility and role in growing inclusive cultures in engineering. Over the coming year, the data gathered will be analysed further to uncover localised inclusion challenges, and more detailed recommendations, advice and support for industry will be shared. A new and innovative Inclusive Leadership Programme will be launched and its inaugural cohort of 40 leaders will engage with solutions to the inclusion deficits identified by the research.