Why we need to talk about diversity in engineering

FrancescaMaclean
Francesca advises students talk to prospective companies to find out if their commitment to diversity and inclusion is genuine.

Engineering is essentially designing our world, says Dr Francesca Maclean, a consultant at Arup Australia. “If we don’t have a diverse engineering workforce, the world we shape won’t be inclusive of diverse perspectives and needs.”

Companies with inclusive teams make smarter decisions, solve problems faster and deliver better results. It also leads to designing win-win solutions for everyday people. For example, designing and building train stations that are accessible for people with disabilities also benefit the elderly and people with children.

“When we design inclusively for one part of the population, we can actually provide inclusivity for a lot more people,” says Francesca.

Building gender equality

Although STEM-skilled jobs are growing one-and-a-half times faster than any other job sector, Australia is still facing a skills shortage in mechanical, aeronautical and civil engineering. With women making up a mere 12.4% of the engineering workforce and only 17% of engineering enrolments at university, a large part of the problem is a lack of gender equality.

These hurdles often begin at school, where STEM subjects may be taught and promoted in a curriculum biased towards male students. But many engineering firms are working hard to level the playing field for their workers. For example, Arup achieved a 50/50 gender balance in its 2019 graduate intake, while AECOM is aiming for a 40% female workforce by 2022. The global engineering firm is also boosting its intake of graduates from culturally diverse backgrounds and has implemented flexible working arrangements to accommodate parents.

Another international company making leaps in creating a culture of diversity is Aurecon. They have partnered with Pride in Diversity for LGBTI inclusion and are developing strong relationships with the Indigenous community, including a cadetship program for Māori students.

Finding inclusive employers

Regardless of whether you’re searching for the dream graduate job or an internship that’ll help develop your skills, Francesca advises students should start by talking to prospective companies to find out if their commitment to diversity and inclusion is genuine.

Joining support networks, such as the Women in Engineering Group at Engineers Australia, and finding mentors in the industry can also go a long way in accessing career opportunities, overcoming challenges and meeting like-minded people.

There are also job sites like Work180 that list and rank employers on their inclusivity policies. “We don’t always have to be the ones driving change – other people can take it up as well,” says Francesca. – Gemma Conroy

This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Engineering 2019.

CwS Engineering

Cassie Steel

Author: Cassie Steel

As Refraction’s digital assistant, Cassie Steel spends her days researching robots and stalking famous scientists on Twitter.

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