Inclusive Workplaces: Ashleigh Ainsley Discusses First Steps for Industry
Given the pervasive lack of diversity across the engineering industry, we asked Ashleigh Ainsley, Co-Founder of the Non-profit Colorintech, to discuss how businesses can make the necessary changes.
There is currently a systemic underrepresentation of non-white ethnicity across STEM. Recent research suggests that within the leadership of the top technology companies, representation is at 2.6%. What’s more, there is little evidence to suggest this is different across other subsections of the engineering field. Unfortunately, this reduces the vibrancy, vitality, and robustness of engineering.
Various reports discuss why organisations suffer when primarily comprised of homogenous populations. Yet, despite this, we still find that ethnic minorities encompass only 6% of the engineering workforce. Given that 25% of the UK primary school population is from a minority background, engineering has a long way to go towards true inclusion. Now, having contextualised the current state of play, we find ourselves posed with three main questions:
What can we do today to make the difference?
Unfortunately, the industry isn’t doing a great job of marketing itself right now. For example, we still find an environment where women comprise just 9% of the engineering population. This compares poorly to 17% across the channel amongst our European neighbours. However, diversity isn’t only a gender-based issue.
The experiences of ethnic minorities, for example, are complex; little information is available on the experiences of these individuals, but the data that is available suggests it would be one of isolation and struggle. Nonetheless, the narrative we attempt to build does not have to be a negative one. This is an industry that put a man on the moon, built jets to travel faster than the speed of sound, and crafted the work of many Nobel scientists.
Where to begin
To begin, I would suggest two things: Firstly, don’t just champion a specific group. Focusing on narrow subsets of diversity as discrete problems will lead to failure. Focusing on a label of gender, sexuality, or ethnicity alone often backfires. This approach reinforces exclusion in other groups as much as it drives inclusion for the targeted groups. Diversity-based issues are embedded in society and reductionist methods alone won't explain them. As such, it is best to focus on what Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) mean for your organisation, and for you. Focus on creating environments for discussion, challenge, and testing.
No pathway will be without challenges but working on a culture which is open to true learning will prove in faster results. To achieve this culture, all levels of business need to make efforts, and everyone needs to take responsibility. If then it isn't championed consistently throughout the organisation. Shouldering responsibility should occur from the highest level of our organisation (such as the board and senior leadership teams), down to those who are on the front-line of talent attraction and solution delivery.
Secondly, check where you are as an organisation. Work with the experiences of those in your organisation, and use them to make impactful, lasting changes. There is no success in driving a diverse pipeline if people within your organisations leave because it does not champion inclusive practices or cultures. Focus on what the internal state looks like, and where issues can be addressed. By focusing on these areas, you’ll be on your way to creating inclusive cultures.
How can we attract more talent into our companies/industry?
Put a flag in the sand. Don't just accept male-only shortlists, work with diversity recruiters, and incubate a pipeline. Developing internships, placement programs, and work experience initiatives specifically for those groups will make companies less intimidating and help to remove elements of nepotism.
Working to ensure a broad spectrum of inclusive practices that drive candidates to your front door is great. However, you also need to invest financially to reinforce this practice. If diversifying business environments boosts performance, then allocate the capital accordingly. Additionally, programs that incubate the pipeline can make a big difference. The KPIs set by these programs need to be realistic and have C-suite approval. If for nothing else, these goals should be aligned with company values.
Finally, champion collaborative approaches with sister organisations in the industry. While the race to the best talent is a competitive differentiator for firms, ensuring the industry has a wide pool of talent is a social benefit for all. Drive better competition, and incubate a wide range of ideas derived from a diverse engineering community. It will benefit both the industry and society.
Who can help?
There is a multitude of organisations that are starting to making strides to ensure that the industry improves. Look for them. Identify them and ask to work with them. They provide great value in challenging you — offering unique perspectives, and providing cross-industry insights. On top of that, they can often work and act on the ground in ways that big companies are unable to. They are acutely aware of how to deploy your resources to maximise impact at scale and are very keen to work with you. Look far and wide, but look to your neighbours too.
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