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Ethnic Diversity in Engineering – Why do so few BAME graduates go into the industry?

A panel discussion about ethnicity in the Engineering & Technology sectors – we discuss why do so few BAME graduates go into the industry, advice, possible routes in, being a role model and how companies are improving diversity and inclusion.

Mark McBride-Wright – EqualEngineers (Host)
Nsikan Essien – Rolls-Royce
Anne Marie Douglas – British Army
Vimbai Fedrick – Defence Equipment & Support
Abishek Ravindran – Defence Equipment & Support

Recorded at the EqualEngineers 2017 Graduate Careers Fair in Birmingham on the 11th of November.

Ethnic Diversity in Engineering – Why do so few BAME graduates go into the industry?

A panel discussion about ethnicity in the Engineering & Technology sectors – we discuss why do so few BAME graduates go into the industry, advice, possible routes in, being a role model and how companies are improving diversity and inclusion.

Mark McBride-Wright – EqualEngineers (Host)
Nsikan Essien – Rolls-Royce
Anne Marie Douglas – British Army
Vimbai Fedrick – Defence Equipment & Support
Abishek Ravindran – Defence Equipment & Support

Recorded at the EqualEngineers 2017 Graduate Careers Fair in Birmingham on the 11th of November.


Mark: [00:00:01] So hi everyone. I’m Mark McBride-Wright. I’m founder of EqualEngineers. Thank you for coming along today to our panel looking at ethnicity in engineering and technology. We’ve got a fantastic panel here from a diversity of engineering and tech organisations. And so what we’re going to explore is ‘the who’, ‘the what’, ‘the why’. Who the people are. Please have a think of some questions for at the end and so I’m going to start at the far end so if you could introduce yourself and take it away.

Nsikan: [00:00:33] Sure. Morning everyone. I have a feeling that might happen. So my name is Nsikan Essien. And I work at Rolls-Royce and I am a Design Program Lead in zero defects, and zero defects is a quality improvement program in Rolls-Royce. And I represent the design engineering function there. In terms of what I do, it’s really more of a 50/50 split between technical and program management and under program management side it’s very much strategic. So in terms of the technical bit, what I think about is the optimisation of the design process as a whole. So in a way that you can think about the manufacturing process as being step-by-step, and made up of operations where bringing the same approach to design engineering and thinking about how that affects the quality of products that are designed and how they behave in service et cetera. But, then from a program management side, this strategy needs to be translated to a workforce of circa 20,000 engineers and non-engineers. So it needs to be scalable and needs to be something that people understand. And it needs to consist of ways of working that are really clear-cut and make sure that people can understand what kind of interactions that they have between them. So that’s the work bit.

Nsikan: [00:01:47] And then in terms of what do I do as a role model in my organisation, I do quite a bit with STEM work, as a STEM ambassador. So that consists of going out to schools, running activities for students as well as activities like this. And for me that’s important because it allows other people to see someone like me and think to themselves “Oh actually, there’s someone else who looks like me, that’s in this organisatiom, doing this role and than having some sort of impact.” And that makes it accessible. So for me that’s, that’s why role modeling and STEM are really quite important.

Nsikan: [00:02:23] In terms of the what impact can it have…it’s quite interesting because the conversations that you can have as a STEM ambassador, and both as a role model from your organisation or with other people…it allows them to see what possibilities that they have for them. You might be able to point out ways in which they could get involved in your organisation that they might not have previously expected. So classically in engineering people often ask the question “I’m not very good at maths, is there a place for me in engineering?”. And the answer I will always give is “yes, if you can solve problems then there is a place for you in engineering because engineering is more than modelling, maths and physics.” It’s a good starting point. It’s a nice foundation, but engineering is so much more of a broad spectrum. And like I explained in my role, a good 50 percent of what I do is about convincing people that something is a good idea. And that has nothing to do with how good I am at maths and physics. So that’s a snapshot of my role.

Mark: [00:03:20] So for some people who are already studying engineering as well it’s just as important to remember that anchoring on why you chose to study engineering, but also engineering has got huge attrition rate of people not going into the profession once you’ve finished your degree. So it’s important to remember that those opportunities are there and that’s where what you’re studying can lead to you.

Mark: [00:03:41] OK. Can we move on to our next panelist.

Vimbai: [00:03:46] My name is Vimbai Fedrick. I work for Defence Equipment and Support which is part of the Ministry of Defence. Currently I’m working as the Engineering Policy Manager within the maritime sector, which involves working with industry as well as my internal organisation to develop policy, good practice and finding solutions for strategic problems, also problems that are faced within industry as in the private sector, as well as defence.

Vimbai: [00:04:23] Now as a role model I get involved in STEM activities. I went to the Big Bang which was held at the NEC at the beginning of this year. So, I tried to reach out to girls as well as ethnic minority because I feel like, sometimes, there are barriers especially if you don’t either have a role model or if your family are always pushing you to do a stereotypical job. When I was growing up there were no engineers in my family so I didn’t actually know what I wanted to do. But, when I sort of studied and focussed…because I also enjoy solving problems at home…outside….so everything that I did in terms of my life experience, solving problems and getting to where I was…I find those experiences I can actually apply even today in my job. So engineering is quite diverse. Don’t think that “Oh I have to decide now what I want to do with my engineering or with my career” because if you just decide you want to do engineering there’s lots of different organisations to work for. And if you find you’re not enjoying something always try to aim higher because there are many other opportunities. It’s not just one opportunity that you need to focus on. And I’ve found that in my career…so I’ve worked for about three different organisations….all very good experiences and challenges, but I am happy with where I am today.

Mark: [00:06:06] Fantastic. Next speaker.

Abishek: [00:06:08] Hi, my name is Abishek Ravindran. I call myself Abs cause that’s what everybody calls me in my organisation so that stuck onto me. I’m from India. I studied my Bachelors there, moved on to UK, studied my Masters. I kind of worked a little bit on some projects in India and I’m fortunate to work like in Scotland, Wales England. Quite a few companies now. And now I’m currently in Defence Equipment & Support which is part of the Ministry of Defence where I am an Engineering Functional Manager.

Abishek: [00:06:45] Like every engineer I’m always curious on what is the new technologies. So I’ve always moved on different jobs and within DE&S, I’ve got opportunities to have different jobs within the company. I was in ship supporting side, within maritime side and defence equipment. So that’s my maritime, land and air. And I was in ship support side. I’m in the engineering function. I support all the engineers.

Abishek: [00:07:18] As a role model I’ve been a part of IMechE as a mechanical engineering institution where, as an engineer, you do a lot of volunteer activities. A couple of years ago we did some boat races to promote local community to volunteering companies. People from Rolls-Royce and other companies joined, did the boat race, and that kind of works to engage people in engineering.

Mark: [00:07:46] And do you think that the engineering institutions..so I remember being a student and not really having that much engagement from my engineering institute actually…so do you think that the institutions are doing enough to reach to the students and, maybe that’s something I’ll pick up when I come to the audience on what what your engagement is actually with the PEIs:

Abishek: [00:08:02] I think they are. I can’t talk about other institutions but from defence, we have got a lot of outreach activities. We help a lot of communities locally. We support STEM and there is a diversity and inclusion, part of being diverse. We’e got a multicultural community, we’ve got a LGBT community we’ve got all the communities and we go out to those kind of communities within students locally and we support them as well. So, there are, in industry I think there are some more opportunities nowadays.

Mark: [00:08:41] Fantastic, thank you very much. And our final speaker.

Anne: [00:08:45] Good morning. My name is Major Anne-Marie Douglas. I work within the core of the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers and I’m an engineering officer for the Corps. My current role is a Staff Officer Grade Two dealing in personnel operations which is, in effect, is recruitment a bit of HR and soldier policy. My previous roles, I was an Engineering Manager. In effect, I have a degree in engineering but the way the Corps operates is that we kind of manage production and with the opportunity to go down the more technical stream if we were to work with DE&S and all those types of organisations too. So, in terms of my profile I used to be an aircraft engineer. I started off as a soldier, trained as an aircraft engineer and then got recommended for commissioning a few years later. My job itself, when I am in command, I will command a workshop of up to 80 personnel in my future job and they will be responsible for the maintenance of all Army equipment from vehicles, so what we call B-fleet vehicles, some sort of tanks and tract-type vehicles, and there are other streams that where people can go into aviation as well, so work within the aviation environment. But that’s a specialist stream that you kind of choose to go into.

Anne: [00:10:09] So, in terms of what I do for the BAME category, it is about visibility. I’ve had a very fortunate career that, in the sense that the Army is very inclusive of every sort of diverse group. So actually you know there is…in policy-wise, it’s very supportive. My team now, I have the core engagement team who deal with recruitment and engagement in STEM activities and for us it is about visibility and getting out to as many active events that we can to, you know, to show that yes, there are females in the Army. Yes there are different sort of ethnic backgrounds in the Army and the LGBT community as well. So, we just try and reflect society as best as we can. Yeah.

Mark: [00:10:59] Fantastic. One one question that I had and I’m interested to hear your take. So currently the 23 percent of the engineering student population are from a BAME background, so that is Black Asian and Minority Ethnic, I should have clarified at the beginning, but only 6 percent of the engineering workforce is from a BAME background. So, we’ve been doing some work with the Royal Academy of Engineering, to try and figure out what this…where is everyone going? You know, we say we have a skills gap. We say we need these people, but if we’ve got universities churning out people that are not then getting the jobs in industry. Well it sounds to me that we’ve got a bit of a connection issue there. So I’m keen to hear your thoughts on what you think that is. We’ve got some people in the audience that I don’t want to be part of that attrition rate. So what advice could you give them to try and sort of circumnavigate recruitment processes and, you know, a bit of your experience.

Anne: [00:12:03] In terms of the Army, if you don’t I’ll just step-in, in terms of the Army we are fully inclusive. So actually, you know we don’t need to have a degree to come and join my Corps. I mean for certain jobs, of course, there is a pre-requisite for you know maybe a degree or some sort of qualifications but actually you can come in and we will give you the training and academic qualifications that you need to be an engineer. At the very early start of your career, you know, you are very much the person that does a job, but as your academic and development happens, you know, with time served, you can develop and potentially get a good degree at the very end. So after 10 plus years with promotion with experience you could walk away with a degree and become and get chartership in certain trades. So you know for us it is it is very much open and there are no boundaries in effect.

Mark: [00:13:03] OK

Abishek: [00:13:04] In regards to students coming into jobs in industry, unfortunately currently in a job where we see a lot of CVs and recruitment process, we sift and interview people, and we find a lot of CVs were not in a good standard. Having some of the interviewers feel “Oh, this is because you can”.

Abishek: [00:13:25] The only way the interviewers can see, or the sifters as they sift your CV, can see your interview by how good you’re writing the CV. Because, I find especially in the BAME community, some of the term, terminologies and stuff used are not ideal, but we are educating within part of DE&S and as we’ve got CV workshops, we’re trying to engage, even internal and external.

Abishek: [00:13:46] So I mean that’s one aspect. And during interviews, we found a lot of people… less confident compared to what it is, and which which may be the reason why there is a gap between people studying and coming into the companies. But, there are quite a lot of workshops, that’s why most of the companies…we found a lot of talent in those communities but we are going outreach and finding who are the people trying to train them, trying to do some activities, but we’re not there yet.

Mark: [00:14:15] OK. So your personal experience then, can you reflect on that maybe Vimbai.

Vimbai: [00:14:20] Yes, I’d like to actually add to what you’re saying, so I think some of it is confidence. I think people have set an expectation they almost feel like they’re going to be rejected just based on what they are or what they look like, and that can come out during that interview. So, even if you know what to say, you don’t necessarily express it very well and they might think “OK ,if we take this person, we might find it difficult to develop them”. But if you go into an interview with an open mind, show them what you can really do, you know, be overconfident if you need to be, obviously in a good way, they’re going…you are going to definitely shine out and you will get the opportunities and that’s what’s been my experience.

Vimbai: [00:15:07] I’ve been in interviews not only, you know, as the only female and as the only ethnic minority…10 people applied for the same job, and I got the job but I was just there, and I just, I was just myself and they found I was the right person for the job.

Mark: [00:15:25] You’re very driven and I have absolutely no doubt that you were clearly the best selection for the job. Nsikan, what’s your experience?

Nsikan: [00:15:32] Yes, I definitely see, you know, what’s behind the stats in that the job market is aggressive. And despite the fact that there is a skills gap, the market is still aggressive, which might sound like a bit of a paradox. But, it really makes sense. And so within that context, you know, our students our someone who’s looking for a job, a wise thing to think about is all the possible options that you can have into entering the job market. So there’s the internship route, which is available, certinly at Rolls-Royce it is. And with that, you know, internships would assume a degree background. So that’s kind of like a university-type funnel.

Nsikan: [00:16:09] But, then also I would strongly encourage people to consider apprenticeships. And particularly when, you know, you’re thinking about around things like ethnicity, you know, for long standing reasons there may be issues where people might not be able to consider university. Perhaps, they might not have had role models that encourage them to look at that while they were growing up, or maybe the circumstances around life, such as being a carer, means that you can’t dedicate all your time to full-time study. And, so in that kind of context, it makes a lot of sense to think about other opportunities like apprenticeships which are solid ways of getting into the workforce. Now, apprenticeships have historically had quite a bit of slack as not being a good enough way as getting a degree. But, the fact of the matter and certainly in an organisation like Rolls-Royce is, at the end of your apprenticeship, you end up with a degree. And if you are a, you know, sort of passionate, curious person who really wants to do something of value, that’s going to stand out. And so I think it’s really, a lot of it is really about thinking carefully which of the options fits best with how my life has wrapped around so far. And exploring that.

Nsikan: [00:17:18] And then the second thing I’d say, and this really ties into the confidence thing that you know, the previous members before me have spoken about. I think that that’s a really tough one. I think confidence is one of those strange things which, you know, some people have it and you think “how on earth do they get it and how can I get some?”. And a really good amount of it is practice. And so, I’d really encourage people, if you see interview workshops going on, just go for it. If you know, if in some small capacity in your life you can put yourself in a situation where you’re practicing those skills that make you valuable in the workforce…so Are you on a sports team? Can you organise matches and things like that? Or do you do activities in your local community? Look for reasons to put yourself out there and practice those skills that can really help you bring value to an organisation. And I think when you start to rack up that kind of practice, it’s then quite easy for you to walk into an interview because, if someone asks you “tell us about a time when you did X Y Z ” you think “Right…I have a really long list I could choose from, here we go.” And it’s a totally different way of approaching it.

Mark: [00:18:24] Also, thank you for that, I would add as well…accept the high failure rate. You have to just keep going at it and, you know, apply apply apply. At one point before I set up EqualEngineers was applying for every job left right and centre. And, I actually learn a lot about myself in applying for jobs, just going through that process of looking at the company values. Thinking about examples that I had to map onto that, that I could then churn out in an interview…you start to really know more about yourself, and you can go in with that confidence and nail it basically.

Mark: [00:18:59] So, do we have any questions from the audience? Yep, ok I will come over. If you could say your name and your question.

Tyler (Audience Member): [00:19:14] I’m Tyler. I’m a third year chemical engineering student. So I guess my current experience is I’m applying for placements so I guess, it’s the equivalent struggle of graduate recruitment where, you know, you’ve got to get through the whole process. I’d say…like you were saying earlier, you know, how the, you know, the intake of ethnic minorities is so low. But, from my personal experience within engineering, it’s not you know…ethnic minorities aren’t a minority in studying engineering. But, I feel like that there is that disadvantage there in terms of the recruitment process that, you know, we we do just feel less prepared because it’s still very much, who you know. And I guess from that yeah…How….

Tyler: [00:20:12] How would you prepare for a recruitment process, and I guess for your stage in your life now, do you ever feel at a disadvantage when it comes to progression within your job roles and how do you overcome that?

Abishek: [00:20:30] When I did my Masters I was in a similar state. I don’t know, I was new to the country. I didn’t know anyone here…I have Masters…all I have to apply. So the way I overcome, and all I can say is what I did at the time. I literally applied the same to every jobs I can see…just apply apply apply.

Abishek: [00:20:47] And I know for the first few interviews I went to, literally they asked questions I can’t answer. My confidence was just shot right down. Because I keep on applying, I got more confidence on what I’m answering. I started preparing a book, literally got a book saying, this the company, what are they questions asked. What are the type of question, or sample questions? The University helped me to sample questions, so I prepared quite a lot of what I do. And all the small things, you’ve done something, volunteering, just use that as an example. I found out how you use your life experience in the interview room. That’s what I found. So when I went applied. I got 20 interviews. The last five interviews, I was literally nailing every interview I got and I have five jobs to choose at the time which all I wanted to go. So it’s just practice makes perfect. That’s what I realise. So wherever you are. That doesn’t matter if you don’t know where to start. How. You don’t need to know anyone, as long as you have the job advert there. Just go for it and see during the process you will get to know where you want. So that’s what my advice would be.

Vimbai: [00:21:50] I’ll just add quickly that also, if you get rejected, always ask for feedback and build on that. And if they don’t want to provide feedback, just try and, you know, be a nuisance until they give you that feedback.

Mark: [00:22:05] But you’re right. There is a body of work to be done because ethnic minority students and candidates are disproportionately affected and underperform when it comes to the filters that companies put up. Is that because there’s bias within those processes in terms of the way they’ve been constructed? That’s an area for exploration. The NHS actually do provide additional support to ethnic minority students, provide them additional training on how to circumnavigate…how to navigate through psychometric testing and things like that. So, it’s through experiential learning and role models like this that EqualEngineers as an organisation will be trying to impart that advice to bolster that confidence. But, certainly one thing that I’ve seen in the short time that I’ve been moving into the BAME space in terms of engagement is…it’s confidence. You need to have that confidence. Back high and go in there and just, nail it, really.

Mark: [00:22:58] I’m just conscious of time so I sort of want to wrap up. Could you maybe just give a final couple of words of advice to the students that they might want to take away from today based on what we’ve been talking about.

Vimbai: [00:23:14] I would say that don’t give up. It might..this only…I mean you’re young…just put your applications in and when you do get any one who rejects you, just always think that wasn’t the job for you. And just keep going because there are many opportunities out there.

Abishek: [00:23:34] One thing I like to add to that is be passionate. I’ve seen myself enthusiastic when I was in the 20s and now when I’m in my 30s, you get to lose enthusiasm. Be enthusiastic. This is a stage you can be enthusiastic and I love to be enthusiastic, be enthusiastic. There’s a lot ways you can access information now. So, internet use as much as information you can. Doesn’t matter which shows you’re getting from access. If you go to the internet you can find a lot of information now. So use that one and try to build confidence based on that is what I’m saying.

Nsikan: [00:24:07] Yeah I mean I’d say, one other thing I’d like to really add to what you said, and it’s kind of the same thing in a similar context, is your curiosity. I’d say, you know, really, really pay attention to the things that you can find yourself thinking about late at night. Genuinely, take a notepad, scribble them down, and try and do something with that interest and I’ll just contextualize it as an example. I thought digital technology was really interesting. For a long time, I sort of put it to the side and never paid attention to it, but then recently I thought, why don’t I just learn how to code right? What’s it gonna hurt? And I found that to be so rewarding. So, whatever that might be for you, if you think to yourself, I find x y z really interesting. Carve out some time. And look into it and you might just find some really interesting career opportunities flow out from that. And most importantly you will be enthusiastic about that and it will show.

Anne: [00:25:05] And I think, you know, from my perspective, it’s about determination. So, you know, if you have aspirations to be an engineer, do something different, then the Army will offer…and the REME…will offer that, you know, you have to be determined to be able to get through the course, become an engineer, but also you know, you have to deal with also the other aspect of being in the military which is, you know, physical fitness…participating in sports, going ventures training. So, there is a lot of things to think about but, more importantly, being determined is quite a good attribute for a soldier in the REME.

Mark: [00:25:44] Can we just give a round of applause to our panel to say thank you. Thank you so much for your time. That was really really helpful. And thank you everyone for coming along.

Mark: [00:25:52] Please do continue the rest of your event, and enjoy. We have the sexual orientation event next.


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