Change the Culture, Change the Outlook
Engineering and construction need to become more diverse and inclusive. That much is beyond dispute. For example, at a time when we have a growing skills crisis, only 9% of UK engineers are women, 6% come from a BAME background and only 5% have disabilities. That pattern is repeated across the construction sector. If we can’t change this, we will struggle to take advantage of the opportunities ahead of us.
Inclusivity is the route to greater diversity but is much more challenging. Whatever a company might do to promote greater diversity, it is only inclusive if the people working in the company feel included and valued.
The need for inclusivity and belonging applies to the entire workforce. It matters because feeling included boosts motivation, performance and commitment. So, a culture where everyone genuinely feels included creates a healthy business.
The Royal Academy of Engineering carried out extensive research with engineers to uncover how inclusion looks in practice. Perhaps not surprisingly, female engineers and those from minority backgrounds felt less included than their white, male counterparts. This is changing, but needs to change faster.
Inclusion is more than having policies, training and targets in place. It’s about how the experience of working in an organisation feels to the individuals concerned. Which is why it’s about culture: how people act, what they say and what they believe. These things are hard to measure, not always easy to change, and demand strong leadership.
While significant progress is being made there is still much to do before the culture in engineering and construction is seen as being one that values diversity and is universally inclusive.
Building on our strengths
The positive aspects of engineering culture can be deployed to make a difference. We are, after all, good at problem solving and teamwork. The Academy report highlights the need to blend this with greater openness and, while valuing our strengths, to be prepared to let go of some traditions.
An Issue for Everyone
For inclusion to become a reality it can’t just be seen as an issue for underrepresented groups. White males in the industry have to be seen to be promoting the cause and challenging outdated behaviours and attitudes.
We also need to be much more comfortable dealing with personal issues. In this way everyone will feel confident to speak up about their concerns and to challenge any behaviours that could continue to hold us back.
Inclusivity will happen. Why? Because the businesses that fail to adapt and change their culture will struggle, while those that can will thrive.