Telling stories and sharing individual experiences could be a powerful strategy in achieving a welcoming and inclusive culture in the engineering profession, concluded a panel discussion hosted at the Academy during Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, supported by BAE Systems plc.

Looking at ways to enhance the appeal of engineering careers and address the skills shortage, panel chair Sarah Sands, Editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, was joined by John McCollum, Head of Engineering at BAE Systems; Dr Mark McBride-Wright, Founder of EqualEngineers; Dr Nike Folayan, Technical Discipline Team Leader - Comms & Control (Rail) at WSP and Chair of the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers; and Bola Fatimilehin, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Only 9% of UK engineers are women and only 6% are black or minority ethnic, but EngineeringUK estimates that the profession is still short of up to 20,000 graduate engineers a year and up to 186,000 skilled recruits a year up to 2024. Engineering pays well and there is no shortage of exciting events going on around the country to promote science, technology, engineering and maths, so why aren’t more young people taking up engineering as a career?

Recent Academy research demonstrates why engineering needs to rise to the challenge. Informed by feedback from 7,000 engineers, Creating cultures where all engineers thrive found that inclusion benefits the performance of individual engineers with 80% reporting increased motivation, 68% increased performance and 52% increased commitment to their organisation. Inclusion also carries real benefits for the organisations involved. Engineers who feel included are more likely to understand business priorities and to be confident about speaking up on improvements, mistakes or safety issues.

John McCollum emphasised the importance of supporting teachers, an area that BAE Systems has worked on in partnership with the Academy, through initiatives like the Barrow Education Project and a series of engineering teaching resources.

Stereotypical perceptions of engineers need to be challenged at all opportunities. Nike Foyalan said: “We’d like to get children playing at being engineers rather than princesses. As a child I liked playing with Lego and ended up breaking the radio trying to find out how it worked. But somewhere along the line children can lose that kind of curiosity.”

Everyone agreed that government can help. Mark McBride-Wright said: “I’m very excited about the forthcoming Year of Engineering 2018 – we’re seeing some really joined-up work across departments with over 300 companies involved as partners. Equal Engineering is partnering with the Department for Education to offer engineering events for under-served audiences who have had no previous involvement with engineering.”

The panel reflected on what individual engineers could do to create cultures that are more inclusive. Storytelling was put forward as a powerful route to raise awareness of how inclusion is experienced by different groups.

John McCollum told the audience that he only realised the scale of the inclusion problem when mentoring a female colleague who was returning to work after a ten-year career break. He was astounded to hear from recruitment agencies that they would not consider returners unless their client company specifically instructed them to do so. Recent research shows that there could be up to 75,000 highly skilled people in this situation in the UK.

Bola Fatimilehin, who leads the Academy’s Diversity and Inclusion programme, said: “when I started working in engineering I was told we must first fix the ‘women problem’ before addressing the representation ethnic minorities and disabled people. I pointed out that engineering has been working to increase the numbers of women for the past 20 or 30 years, and if we wait until this improves, we may never get to increase the representation of other groups. Besides, being a woman is not a single point of identify – every woman has an ethnicity, a sexual orientation, disability status, age and social class and if all characteristics are not addressed alongside each other, action to increase women in engineering will be less effective, and could lead to many feeling excluded.”

Sarah Sands ended the discussion with a challenge to the engineering community: “Engineers really understand connectivity and team work, it’s your business. Your profession could become a blueprint for other professions on how to achieve a respectful, supportive and inclusive workplace for everyone.”

Notes for Editors

1.    The Royal Academy of Engineering Diversity and Inclusion Programme aims to increase diversity and inclusion across the engineering profession. It brings key stakeholders together to stimulate action towards developing a diverse and inclusive profession that inspires, attracts and retains people from different backgrounds, reflecting UK’s increasingly diverse society. Our Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Group includes many of the UK’s biggest engineering companies and organisations, including BAE Systems.

2.    Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook.

We have four strategic challenges:
- Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation
- Address the engineering skills crisis
- Position engineering at the heart of society
- Lead the profession

For more information please contact:

Jane Sutton at the Royal Academy of Engineering

T: 020 7766 0636 

E:  Jane Sutton