The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) Diversity and Inclusion manager Jo Foster spoke with us about why diversity is vital to solving the industry’s massive skill shortage. Read on to find out more about the importance of reaching out to lower-income schools, how to win over people who don’t believe in D&I, and why collaboration is key.
Diversity is the answer to the UK’s engineering skills shortage
If you take the UK into account, we’ve got some of the worst stats in terms of women engineers. I think we’re one of the lowest with about 11% of women engineers, which is impacting on the huge skill shortage that we’re facing. Currently, in the UK we need 1.8 million more engineers and technicians by 2025 to reach demand. I think that there also could be potential changes with Brexit, as it could make it more difficult to recruit overseas for engineers.
But also, engineering is a fantastic career. It’s got such a wide reach, it’s so broad in its nature in terms of the type of engineering field that you can go into, particularly with not just women but with other underrepresented groups. By not promoting engineering to them, not only are they missing out on potentially fantastic career opportunities, but we’re missing out on a number of engineering and technological breakthroughs.
By not promoting engineering to them, not only are they missing out on potentially fantastic career opportunities, but we’re missing out on a number of engineering and technological breakthroughs.
Jo Foster, Diversity and Inclusion manager at the Institution of Engineering and Technology
The IET’s initiatives
The IET does the Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards, which has been running for 40 years. We’re starting to build that up to make sure that there’s a more diverse selection of women so the winners don’t all look the same. We want that diversity. So, we run that award to highlight women’s achievements in engineering and those winners then goes on to serve as ambassadors for the profession to schools. It also raises their profile too.
We also have a number of social media campaigns, such as #9PercentIsNotEnough, when in 2015 9 per cent of engineers in the UK were women. We then launched #PortraitofanEngineer and then recently this year we launched a campaign called “Smash Stereotypes to Bits.” Again, it’s all about raising the profile of women in engineering and celebrating diversity.
Considering BAME and class
We’re working with the Association for BAME Engineers (AFBE). They do a lot of outreach work to reach those underrepresented groups and so just by collaborating with them, supporting some of their events and having their logo on our Young Women Engineer of the Year Awards website, it helps us to reach a more diverse audience.
And in particular, in doing some work with individuals from less advantaged groups, we’re finding that a lot of children from more privileged areas or backgrounds know what an engineer is. Whereas if you take a child from a less privileged area they may not know what an engineer is, but they know what a plumber is or an electrician, for example. So it’s really about raising the profile and trying to reach everybody, highlighting that the profession is inclusive and that engineering is for everybody.
How can we make D&I initiatives better?
As much as it’s important to come up with new initiatives, it’s always better to collaborate because we’re stronger and more credible together. I really do think that collaboration is key. The more organisations you can pull in to try and make your voice heard the better – I think that’s when we’ll start to really make more change. There’s money saving to be made if you’re doing something together, and you can create a more impactful or larger scale event or initiative. The situation that we’re facing at the moment is not something that’s going to be fixed overnight.
Winning over everyone
It’s a very small number of people, but not everybody understands why we need diversity and inclusion or why, for example, we promote women engineering. A lot of people view it as positive discrimination, whereas it’s not, it’s positive action. We need to explain to those individuals the importance of highlighting engineering to people who may not be aware of it, giving them an opportunity to have an amazing, highly-paid career and reducing the skill shortage.