Equality in Engineering graphic

Equality in Engineering Conference 2018

September 2018 is a big month for me and my business (EqualEngineers). I have six major events I am delivering, the first of which will be my Equality in Engineering conference on 7th September in partnership with Siemens and the IET in Manchester centring around diversity and inclusion in engineering and technology. Read on why you should make the effort to come along.

I’m really pleased with the traction this has received so far.

Representatives from the following organisations are confirmed: EDF Energy, Tarmac, CRH, Sellafield, BAE Systems, Defence Equipment & Support, British Gas, Edwards Vacuum, SSE, UK Atomic Energy Authority, Rolls-Royce, Google, Stantec, Siemens, Dyson, Atkins, Wood, Magnox, UCAS Media, GKN Aerospace, University of Newcastle, Airbus, Cavendish Nuclear, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Heathrow, KPMG, London School of Economics, Association for Black & Minority Ethnic Engineers (AFBE-UK), InterEngineering, Women’s Engineering Society, LGBT Foundation, Mates in Mind and the British Safety Council.

I have been working as a freelance consultant now for a few years in diversity and inclusion, having the privilege to work with a large cross-section of the engineering and tech industry. Having this vantage point has enabled me to see trends, to see common barriers facing organisations, and to see what is working well to engage our workforce.

I always say could have a lovely career as a freelance consultant going around organisation-to-organisation offering the same (tailored) advice, guidance and support in terms of strategy definition and thought-leadership.

But that is not going to move the needle…and I am impatient.

My motive for the conference on 7th September is to bring together a broad cross-section of industry representatives who have some ownership and responsibility over diversity and inclusion in their organisations, and who have a vested interest in playing their part in wider culture change.

I have invited expert speakers from my network who’s work I value, respect, and which I know has led to positive changes in their respective organisations, and beyond. We will learn from their experiences.

Workshop Themes

I have devised three workshop which centre around common themes I see coming up, and which are based on my vision for the way forward to speed up cultural transformation, and to overcome barriers commonly encountered. Each workshop will have an output which will be shared amongst our attendees.

The themes are:

Culture: Linking diversity and inclusion to health, safety and wellbeing

Engineering spends lots of money on hammering home the importance of taking care of the physical safety of oneself and our co-workers (and quite rightly so). However, when it comes to extending this to consider the mental health and wellbeing of our workforce, it gets muddier.

There is a (slowly) growing awareness of the positive benefits of addressing mental health issues onsite, having trained mental health first aiders for signposting people to appropriate support and so forth. But, we are a long way off having an equal approach to mental health and wellbeing as we do physical safety. Some organisations are nervous about being proactive in this area due to a misunderstanding from a legal perspective in terms of liability. Having a mental health programme first aider is analogous to a physical first aider. Cut yourself? Find a plaster and receive first aid. On the verge of having a nervous breakdown, or feeling anxious about something? Speak to a mental health first aider for signposting to further support services.

I believe physical safety and awareness efforts are the perfect skeleton upon which we flesh out our diversity and inclusion efforts. Organisations have people values, but often they are not core to the culture. What better way to engage our workforce if we start to demonstrably show we care about their wellbeing and how they feel. From a genuine caring perspective, of course…not a compliance-driven approach.

There is an opportunity for collaboration through supply-chains, and for positive behaviour programmes to create interdependent cultures across all levels. Additionally, there is a movement in the higher and further education sectors addressing the mental health and wellbeing of students, with this being a new focus for universities, schools and colleges. How can we join-up efforts early in the talent pipeline with the needs in the existing workforce, and the projected needs from (and demands on) a future workforce?

This workshop will explore what is currently being done in this space, and what more could be done to marry up the linkage between H&S and diversity and inclusion, within industry and wider partners.

Exclusively inclusive: Engaging the majority to build effective allies as a force for good.

“Diversity” in engineering (usually) translates through to increasing gender diversity, with other characteristics trailing behind (if even addressed at all). With some strategies adopting a “characteristic-by-characteristic” approach, men can feel alienated and disenfranchised. And, worse, sometimes these are reactive efforts rather than proactive strategies. If the gender pay-gap reporting requirement or movements like the #MeToo campaign has been what it has taken for you to pay attention to diversity…well…better late than never I suppose.

However, men need to find their voice as part of the diversity conversation. Diversity of thought and experience. Once we find our voice, and understand our own diversity story, then I believe we will then more likely engage and become active listeners and supporters of the needs of other groups to which we do not belong. The “them and us” culture which can pervade and organisation’s culture due to an ineffectively executed diversity and inclusion strategy can make it even more toxic than having done nothing at all.

By focussing on positive wellbeing and positive mental health awareness (because this is good for everyone irrespective of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ability etc.), a more inclusive conversation around diversity can be curated.

This workshop will consider which methods work, as well as those which do not, for including everyone creating a more inclusive workforce.

Maintaining network group momentum: Establishing a brand within the business

Inclusive leaders who can flex their communication style to get the most out of their colleagues create a culture where everyone can flourish. If in a position of leadership, they pave the way for up-and-coming talent to leverage the benefits of diversity from a strategic point of view of the business.

However, more often than not, culture change can feel like being the first explorer to arrive in Antarctica (stay with me on this analogy….).

With fresh snow extending all the way to the horizon, it’s up to you to carve the path in that homogenous culture. A snow plough would be useful. If someone has already ploughed ahead (the inclusive leader – are you following this analogy? -) then you can follow in their path with fewer barriers along the way.

If there has been no such leadership, then it is up to you whether you choose to carve that path. And there comes the friction. The first out-person at work. The first black person in the team. The first disabled person to work onsite (etc.). Sometimes, it’s the desire to create employee resource groups which galvanise the desire to be the first-front runners. The friction which can be felt on the surface of the snow plough pushing against the sheer weight of the snow is significant.

For some front-runners, the challenge is too much, and they give up, or leave the business. For others, they stick-it out, but deal with all the challenges and up-hill struggle which come with it. Becoming known as “the gay one” or “the feminist one” who is thought to be pushing an agenda, and upsetting the status quo. They could likely be the leaders of tomorrow in the industry, and if you cannot see this when the shoots are just beginning to show, this may be a missed opportunity.

Networks need to be established in a way which are inclusive for everyone, but which retain the need for some exclusivity should they be addressing a sensitive topic about the group they cater for (e.g. people wanting private advice about an issue at work).

Networks can become established, embedded brands within a business, where leaders call upon them for guidance and support…mini in-house consultancies. But it can be a long road to achieving this status.

This workshop will explore how to start, set-up and maintain effective network groups which engage everyone in the business. We will discuss how to overcome barriers, and see examples from organisations at different stages of the maturity curve.

Get involved

All participants will contribute to each session across the day, cycling through across the day.

We will aggregate the shared-knowledge and participants will receive a copy of this as a conference report post-event.

If you would like to join us at the conference then please email events@equalengineers.com to book your tickets. Day-delegate rates are £200 (ex. VAT). But if you quote code EQENG10 in your email then you will receive 10% off this rate.

More info on the conference here: http://bit.ly/EngTechConference2018