Inclusion is one of the buzzwords in engineering at the moment, but what does it mean, and how can we achieve it?
Like safety and ethics, inclusion is one of the underlying competences that we should integrate into every aspect of engineering. It is as valid when we consider engineering outputs as when we interact with our colleagues.
For structural engineering inclusivity should be seen as an empowering concept: structural engineers are literally building the future, and have the power to prevent both discrimination being built into our environment and to reverse historical bias through our designs.
In the UK we have made good progress in terms of designing for disability, and have good resources to help us understand what accessible design looks like. But from other perspectives – such as the gender perspective – we have much more to do.
What makes an inclusive mindset?
Personal traits which define an inclusive mindset include respect for others, open-mindedness, curiosity, cultural competence, kindness, lack of ego, and empathy. An inclusive mindset is developed over time and contributes positively to our engineering designs as well as our professional dealings.
But how can we apply the principles of an inclusive mindset to business processes?
The benefits of an inclusive mindsets in business
Studies have shown that there are multiple benefits to an inclusive business environment. A 2017 Royal Academy of Engineering report
found that individuals who feel included in the workplace are much more likely to commit to the company, understand its priorities, speak up about improvements and safety concerns, and see a future in engineering.
Inclusive companies are also more attractive to modern engineers, who feel that inclusion leads to increased innovation. So what practical steps can we take to embed an inclusive mindset in our businesses?
5 tools to build inclusive mindsets
1. Bias interrupters
are the systems we can put in place to prevent bias occurring. An example would be software that analyses payrolls and prevents gender-biased pay increases (which can occur simply because men ask for pay increases more than women).
2. Inclusive recruitment practices:
we should ensure that all job adverts have ‘inclusion rider’ text added - encouraging those from under-represented groups, or those who may not think they are fully qualified to apply.
Adverts should be run through Textio (or similar software) to ensure gender neutral language and placed on sites likely to attract a diverse group of applicants. Disaggregated data on applicant numbers, shortlisted candidates and successful candidates should be recorded.
3. Behavioural codes
that set down rules to ensure inclusive behaviour, meetings and events (avoid all-male panels!) help people understand what is expected of them, and can be built into performance reviews to ensure inclusive behaviour is encouraged and recognised.
4. Inclusion ‘nudges’
: practical interventions help keep inclusivity in the forefront of your practice: display behavioural guidelines on tables in meeting rooms; put photographs of women leaders and engineers on walls and show visible support for awareness initiatives that celebrate colleagues from different societal groups.
5. External relations:
we should constantly question the way we engage with our external stakeholders to ensure we not only increase the inclusiveness of our own company, but help bring about change in the wider landscape.
We should ask ourselves: how do we pass our inclusive values along our supply chain? Do our outreach activities, branding, investments and website live up to our inclusive aspirations? What does our procurement procedure and our contracts look like, and could we be using these to leverage more inclusive behaviour?
A number of measurement tools exist to help inform companies to see if they are inclusive – such as:
RAEng Diversity and Inclusion in Engineering Measurement
Women’s Business Council, Balancing the SySTEM
Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks (GDIB)
RAEng Diversity and Inclusion Progression Framework
Valuing People Through Diversity and Inclusion, 2017 TIDE Taster from ENEI