Reflection on two years since establishing EqualEngineers

This month marks 2 years since I founded EqualEngineers. Naturally, such birthdays bring about moments of reflection. This is an important thing to do to make sure you are on the right track, professional and personally.

I worked in technical safety consulting in industry for a number of years and did not see any visible representation of the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT+) community in engineering, and so I co-founded InterEngineering in 2014 to connect, inform and empower LGBT+ engineers and supporters. This professional network now has 1000+ members, 20 active volunteers and 5 regional groups across the UK, with a growing corporate partner programme.

Companies started approaching me to see if they could recruit LGBT+ engineers from InterEngineering. The essence of InterEngineering is a professional network ran by engineers, for engineers. I wanted to keep it as that, and not take it down the route of becoming a business.

I also recognised the need to provide a wider focus on diversity recruitment, but focussing more on inclusion. I wanted to create a job platform which would connect underrepresented groups to opportunities in engineering and technology across the diversity spectrum.

Whilst I was mulling these ideas, Rolls-Royce approached me during the summer of 2017 and asked if I would put on a diversity careers fair specifically targeting university students from underrepresented groups looking for graduate roles in engineering and technology. I thought this was an ideal opportunity to initiate an event series, which would feed my job platform. I said “Yes!”, and jumped at the chance to deliver.

On 11th November 2017, I held our first ever careers fair at Millennium Point in Birmingham attracting over 35 exhibitors, and over 500 students to come and speak with exhibitors, attend parallel panel discussions and take part in CV and applications advice clinics. Here’s some footage from the event:

It was a stellar success, the diversity through the doors was outstanding (attendee analysis), and I was amazed at the comfort visitors had in asking personal questions on how they would be supported with some hidden conditions you cannot see from the surface.

Since 2017, I have run 12 careers events and have expanded the focus to include apprenticeship-seekers and, recently, returners. I have maintained a national presence running events in Bristol, Birmingham, Edinburgh, London and Manchester connecting over 3,000 opportunity-seekers with over 70 exhibitors across the series. These events have formed the backbone EqualEngineers. Our next batch of events will take place through October 2019, from 12pm to 4pm in the following cities:

Our jobs board (EqualEngineersJobs.com) allows our employer partners to have a year-round presence advertising vacancies and showcasing their role models at our employer hub e.g. National Grid.

Disabled & Neurodiverse Talent

Whilst running our September 2018 series, I noticed a barrier to getting students with special educational needs or disabilities considering engineering as a career…teachers were declining the invitation to come to our events during our outreach. After some investigating, I came to realise this was simply based on the assumption that engineering and technology is not open to their students, which of course could not be further from the truth!

For our October 2019 events, I have ran a pre-summer engagement campaign reaching out to special educational needs and/or disability (SEN/D) schools to build relationships for getting neurodiverse and disabled talent engaged in opportunities. We have also reached out to other schools in each city, and already have over 90 schools pre-registered bringing over 1,000 students.

I also target our marketing through channels which have access to diverse communities. Here is an example of an interview I gave to Able Magazine in 2018.

Job-seekers

It’s widely acknowledged that engineering needs more people in general where demand for talent outstrips supply. Engineering is a well-remunerated industry too. People have left the sector for many different reasons, some which will be a symptom of the very culture we seek to change, and for some this will be due to personal circumstances.

It’s important that EqualEngineers gives access to as many different people as possible to the opportunities our exhibitors have. I met an incredibly helpful employment advisor when planning our 2018 series, and she connected me with her counterparts within the Department for Works & Pensions (DWP) through which we now advertise our events across the national network of Job Centre Plus centres and to local Employment Advisors too.

We have relationships with Local Enterprise Partnerships, and many other stakeholder groups who have an outreach to underrepresented communities. I also invest time and effort into building affiliate partnerships with professional engineering institutions in the UK who also raise awareness of our events.

Recognising Excellence

Our next big project to launch will be an awards programme for 2020, in partnership with SSE plc and the Royal Academy of Engineering. This will celebrate the diversity within the EqualEngineers network, of individuals, organisations and projects doing good work to create positive change. This is the next step in building our capacity as the industry hub. Sponsorship opportunities are available, ping me an email if you would like to find out more.

Culture Change

It’s one thing getting more diverse talent into our industry from a talent perspective, but we need to change the culture in order for these efforts to stick. Therefore, through the EqualEngineers training and consultancy offering, I have worked directly with clients on building their diversity and inclusion strategies.

The ethos of EqualEngineers is to be the glue which binds the profession together, and drive dialogue and action between organisations across industry, academia and government. Our inaugural Equality in Engineering Conference 2018 brought together over 60 representatives from across 30 engineering companies to discuss key themes relevant to the D&I conversation. The first event covered leadership, role models, learnings from other sectors, empowering network groups, linking D&I to health and safety, and how to engage the majority. Read our complimentary output report here.

This conference is annual event and the agenda is structured with content from common themes which we see arising across our consulting projects with client base. The Equality in Engineering Conference 2019, in partnership with the Royal Academy of Engineering, will take place on 4th October 2019 will look at masculinity in engineering, neurodiversity & hidden identities, inclusive recruitment, inclusive design and digital detoxing. Tickets and sponsorship information available here.

Growth – Engaging the Majority

The cornerstone to our culture change work is linking equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) efforts to health, safety and wellbeing.  Engineering has a beautiful opportunity to fast-track uptake on ED&I by incorporating the messaging into health and safety frameworks which already exist. The engineering industry has successfully created a positive safety culture where calling out unsafe acts without fear of retribution is now the norm. Safety is something which is not used for commercial advantage in tendering, but it is something which could lose a business a contract if it’s not being addressed. I have written about this previously.

We help men find their voice as part of the diversity conversation. Our interventions and methodologies help everyone feel included, create some short-term discomfort exposing truths around privileges the majority have, but in the end arrive at a point where increased buy-in is achieved for ED&I efforts, and therefore more proactive support.

Our Masculinity in Engineering research survey in 2018 received over 800 responses exploring attitudes to masculinity, diversity and inclusion and mental health. Over 21% of respondents answered ‘yes’ to the question ‘have you ever self-harmed or considered ending your on life by suicide?’ An alarming statistic, but what it demonstrates is that there is a huge opportunity here to challenge and rebuild an industry with a culture where men can be vulnerable, and women can be assertive without it negatively affecting their status. We can create a sector which is welcoming to everyone, positive in outlook, high in productivity and drives great performance through a purpose-driven workforce.

Project SHIELD

At present, I am working on a project proposal to explore does being proactive on diversity and inclusion leads to better outcomes in safety? I plan for this will be a longitudinal study over a period of years.

I am looking for founding industry partners from high hazard industries where safety is a dominant culture to support us with this project. Sectors of interest include aerospace, automotive, construction, nuclear, offshore wind, rail, utilities, oil and gas, defence and petrochemicals.

The project will involve a culture mapping exercise, identification of interventions necessary to engage the majority, support in challenging a dominant culture, establishing a mental health first aid programme, evaluation of skills needs coupled with recruitment and development pathways, and regular reviews of the key performance indicators established at project initiation. A key part will be adopting learning methodologies which can ensure learning sticks. No point in doing a one-off workshop if you cannot recall the key points further down the line when you need them. And simply attending a workshop does not ensure competence. We will be building this in to the programme.

2020 and beyond

EqualEngineers Explainer Video

I do believe the network of professionals I am establishing, with our background and experience anchored in engineering puts EqualEngineers in sufficiently good stead to support our industry in becoming the attractive place to work we want it to be, and hence both attract and retain the talent we need.

We are a start-up which is sector-specific and are actually doing stuff which organisations can plug in to for making a difference. We are building a community of professionals in engineering because we believe, as engineers, we can address our cultural rebalance from within, and use the tools and methodologies we are familiar with.

If you would like to support any of our workstreams, please get in touch.

Article written 29th July 2019 by Dr Mark McBride-Wright CEng MIChemE, Founder and Managing Director of EqualEngineers.