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Help inform our next campaign
Question

Hi everyone!

Hope you're safe and well.

We champion equality, diversity and inclusion here at the IET - and frequently run campaigns to challenge outdated stereotypes and make our profession a more welcoming and inclusive place.

We're starting work on our next campaign - and we need your help!

Our focus for this phase is on how we can take real, tangible steps to unite our community to make engineering and technology a career path that is accessible to everyone.

So, what’s your experience? Tell us by adding your thoughts below.

We want to hear from everyone, and we mean everyone. We believe that continuing to thrive in this sector can only happen if we all connect and work together, and that means we need all viewpoints – positive, negative, and even the grey area in between!

So whether you have had good or bad experiences, whatever your background, and whether you identify with different protected characteristics or not – we want to hear from you.

And if you’re comfortable sharing your thoughts in a little more detail, we’re looking for a broad mix of individuals to be interviewed in the next few weeks. You can submit your details for consideration via this link.

And if you would prefer to remain anonymous but still have a viewpoint you’d like to share – no problem! You can send us your thoughts using this form instead.

Thank you in advance for your support.

75 Replies
James Smith
24 Posts

Given responses to previous posts in this community I feel we need to discuss why we need these initiatives - it is not universally accepted that there is even an issue, let alone a need to take action.

Simon Barker
1005 Posts

James Smith: 
 

Given responses to previous posts in this community I feel we need to discuss why we need these initiatives - it is not universally accepted that there is even an issue, let alone a need to take action.

But how would you know whether or not there's a need to take action if you don't ask if anybody has a problem?

James Smith: 
 

Given responses to previous posts in this community I feel we need to discuss why we need these initiatives - it is not universally accepted that there is even an issue, let alone a need to take action.

In the 1970's, one-third of the graduate students in math at my British undergrad university were women. I wondered why so few, given that over half of people are women. Then I went to University of California, Berkeley, known for its progressive attitudes to women and minorities – and it was one in ten. At the same time, computer science was starting up at UCB and well over half the upper-division students were women. But look at Silicon Valley nowadays and it's wall-to-wall bros. 

I have thought, for fifty years now, that there are social reasons for such things that we do not necessarily understand well. And if we did understand them, we'd probably all have a more productive life all around. Who to inquire after them and try to figure them out but the professional society? I think the IET has to ask, and regularly. 

Andy Millar
1630 Posts

After 35 years working in an almost totally male environment (across two very different engineering industries) I have spent the last 5 years working in an environment where 50% of my close colleagues are female. I have also spent many years trying to recruit professional engineers, and finding (like many others) that it is extremely difficult to find good staff. 

So why (rhetorical question) do we seem to go out of our way to discourage 50% of our potential engineering resource? 

Speaking to my female colleagues, and others I meet (e.g. I am pleased to be a Mentor in the excellent Women in Rail programme) most or all have absolute horror stories to tell of the way they have been treated through their careers. I see one of my close colleagues, who is doing much of the engineering on our projects, left out of emails and sidelined in conversations. I see another, an FIET who is not just senior to me but a senior figure in our industry, who is ignored if there is a man (e.g.  me) with her - begging of course the response from me “you need to talk to her, she's the boss!!" And so on.

Yes, as per the post above, many people in the UK don't see a problem. Because if you're a white male then you don't have a problem. Except for wondering why you can't find enough good engineers to recruit…

Some people make better engineers than others (and remembering that the term “engineer” covers a huge range of skills and attributes). Some people have different sex, gender, race and ethnicity to others. In my personal experience, which is pretty wide in the engineering field by now, the graphs of these two areas are orthogonal. But the prejudices in our industry (again speaking w.r.t the UK) on all these issues are huge.

 

I came into engineering because I was interested in creativity, innovation, and exploring all possible approaches for solving problems. What I found, and seem to have spent the rest of my career battling against, is significant sectors of the profession obsessed with maintaining the status quo…the absolute opposite of what had attracted me. 

Oh dear, I think I need to go and find the last of the afternoon sun after all that…

Wishing you all the best with this initiative…keep at it!!!!

Thanks,

Andy

Andy Millar: 

Oh dear, I think I need to go and find the last of the afternoon sun after all that…

Wait ten years and you'll be praying for the monsoon….. no, wait, sorry, that's another thread ……..  :-)

Zoomup
4231 Posts

James Smith: 
 

Given responses to previous posts in this community I feel we need to discuss why we need these initiatives - it is not universally accepted that there is even an issue, let alone a need to take action.

Agreed.

 

Z.

Zoomup
4231 Posts

The I.E.T. should just stick to engineering and science. 

 

Z.

Zoomup: 
 

The I.E.T. should just stick to engineering and science. 

You disagree with the Foothold program of financial assistance? And the financial support for apprentices and students? 

Also, if you believe (as I do) that math, science and engineering talent is largely gender-independent, then it follows from the male-heaviness of the profession that women who would be talented and capable engineers are choosing other careers instead. Is it not part of “engineering and science” to encourage capable people to do engineering and science?

Further, and this is a very big thing, women engineers are still highly disadvantaged when they wish to raise a family. (It is not just engineers of course.) Career hiatus and resumption should be part of the normal human lifecycle, but it still very much isn't for half the population. That happens in engineering and I see no reason why the engineering professional society shouldn't take an interest in this issue of great importance to (what should be, but isn't yet) half its engineers. 

BTW, the male-heaviness is very much worse elsewhere. I have worked in electrotechnical standardisation in Germany and IEC for more than a decade. In Germany, I have probably worked in committee with up to some 200 electroengineers. Two of them are women. On the IEC 61508 maintenance teams, numbering some 120-150 delegates, I think there are three women. I conclude that, in Germany (and generally elsewhere) half the potentially talented potentially electrical engineers are choosing some other career than electrotechnology. That is obviously not helping engineering. 

Rob Eagle
170 Posts

“The I.E.T. should just stick to engineering and science. 

 

Z.”

 

Hear hear.  I am totally fed up with the IET social engineering to the point I am thinking of withdrawing my membership.  It is becoming far too ‘Woke’.

I think some of the commentary here highlights the need to do more work to educate on the necessity of EDI, and the extent to which it is integral to the “hard sciences”. There is sometimes discussion of divorcing the human aspects of engineering from the technical, but to use a trite example one only needs to look as far as Turing to see the devastating impact that institutionalised prejudice can have both on the individual and on the progress of technology (that is to say, had his life not been cut short at 41, who knows what further contributions he may have had to offer). I'm not so sure that the human and the technical can be neatly compartmentalised - after all, it's humans who ultimately use the technology!

On a personal level I was delighted to see Neurodiversity be on the IET's EDI agenda, as someone with ADHD myself, and would love to see more work in that area. There is some evidence that the prevalence of neurodivergent conditions is higher in Engineering disciplines than in others, yet it is often one of the most overlooked aspects of EDI and accessibility.

Andrew Ince
46 Posts

Hi Natalie. I entered engineering as a profession mainly due to my hobby interest in Amateur radio. I trained originally as a geologist and was quite dismayed on graduating to find many of the jobs in prospecting required electronics or physics degrees. I always had a keen interest in science and took Physics, Chemistry and Geography at A level back in the 1970s. I was part of a trial in 1972 for a subject called Project Technology at that time. It was only run for a year but I believe led eventually to CDT and similar technology subjects now offered.

The core issue is providing experience to youngsters at school of the fantastic range of well paid and interesting career paths in engineering. There's probably unintended bias by teaching staff to associate engineering careers as a choice for boys , not realising that it is just as suitable for girls. My experience with “career advice” at school was very negative and poor quality. I'm not sure if much has changed. It is much easier to research careers today with on line resources which should help schools provide high quality careers advice. Given that I was a budding engineer from a very early age better advice and encouragement from teachers would have greatly helped direct me sooner. I do not regret my experience as a geologist which is a wonderful science and does indeed incorporate much engineering knowledge.

There does seem to be some good role models for women in engineering if the IET magazine is to be believed. Before retiring I worked in IT with the NHS and it was about 50% female staff in IT and the culture was very inclusive in all aspects.

Possibly more opportunities for well structured work experience while at school will help bring more to the profession. I think hands on practical experience is superior to any amount of passive learning. Geology as a subject required a large element of practical field work with trips during the “holidays” taking 16 weeks during my degree studies. I suggest that other disaplines follow this example and provide much more practical experience. I studied evening classes in electronic servicing with the City and Guilds to enhance my hobby and this was very much a hands on learning experience. It resulted in working as an Avionics engineer showing there are other routes to a career in engineering. 

I think perhaps when we are younger we view learning as something you do at school or college. In fact what you learn at school or college is only the start and it is a continuous process that never stops even after retirement! In today's world there is so much choice of career path and it is daunting to decide and specialise at a young age, perhaps before we even know where our main interests and talents lie. It should be possible to have the choice of a broader science and engineering education to degree or technical equivalent level with taster options available to get hands on practical experience in various fields. 

Quite a ramble of perhaps slightly disconnected thoughts but may provide some food for thought in your quest.

Cheers Andy

Hello all. Whilst we do welcome and encourage an honest and frank exchange of views, may I please remind you to be civil and respectful of the opinions of others. 

Andrew Ince
46 Posts

Elizabeth Morgan: 
 

Hello all. Whilst we do welcome and encourage an honest and frank exchange of views, may I please remind you to be civil and respectful of the opinions of others. 

Hi Elizabeth

 

Totally agree. I was trying to reply to Rob Eagle but the post has been removed. I'm including my response as it does address his negative comments in a civil way.

The Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) took a very different opinion to Rob Eagle when recruiting for Bletchley Park in 1938. GCHQ continues that tradition today, recognising that engineering excellence is not the preserve of a few white, middle-aged men. Without the success of Bletchley Park we may may all be living under a very different regime without our freedom.

We are in a global economy and to be successful need to inspire the next generation to consider science, engineering and technology as an exciting career option. This may be an obvious choice for some, especially if they have parents with a science or engineering background. We should not exclude other children from aspiring to become engineers and scientists just because of their personal circumstances, gender, race or other differences. Many successful people cite an inspirational teacher or mentor that put them on their path to a successful career. If we are to compete in the world then we need to encourage more youngsters in to engineering and that requires a cooperative effort to promote it. It will still be down to individual choice and ability at the end of the day but let's not handicap our profession by excluding all possible talent.

Andy

 

Amber Thomas
185 Posts

I think part of the reason that women aren't entering the profession starts such a young age. At school in the 90s, I was very interested in STEM topics and yet the career guidance I was given was to go into teaching, so I could teach STEM topics to others. It wasn't even suggested to me that I consider a STEM career myself! Until my late 20s, the only engineers I had heard of were people who came to fix the boiler or those who performed constant delays on train lines. I had no idea of the breadth of careers that engineering held. If I knew then what I know now, I'm sure I definitely would've considered engineering as a career path.

That said, there is a large number of women who are becoming more aware of engineering skills and engineering careers now that STEM is taking a bigger role in the school curriculum. Women who were not encouraged into STEM careers are now learning about STEM careers through their children. Unfortunately, many of these mothers (and fathers too) have no knowledge of or access to STEM topics themselves and are perhaps not best placed to encourage their children in these fields. Perhaps the IET could run more access courses for adults, rather than relying on growing the membership through a new generation of young graduates and apprentices. 

In this vein, there are many other talent pools that the IET could recruit from. The number of people leaving the teaching profession in huge, and many of those leaving may have advanced STEM skills bubbling under the surface that might need just the slightest nudge to switch careers - perhaps the IET could try recruiting in the NTU magazines with conversion/access courses? Same too for other female-dominant professions, such as nursing, which has a high number of educated, capable people, leaving in droves and looking for a change.

 

 

Andrew Ince: 
 

Elizabeth Morgan: 
 

Hello all. Whilst we do welcome and encourage an honest and frank exchange of views, may I please remind you to be civil and respectful of the opinions of others. 

Hi Elizabeth

Totally agree. I was trying to reply to Rob Eagle but the post has been removed. I'm including my response as it does address his negative comments in a civil way.

 

The poster mentioned expresses Twitter-length contrarian comments on a variety of issues. On another thread, he is currently casting doubt that anthropogenic CO2 emissions contribute to global warming, something that has been established science for 125 years. 

One should perhaps be aware of the existence of bots. I have been encountering them regularly on my excursions into Usenet and then Internet discussion groups for 35 years. They have been around since the late 1960's, but then until into the mid-1990's, when the WWW took off, they were mainly a matter of AI research. There are bots active in these forums also. Most forum bots are not very sophisticated.

Most of the important issues in this world cannot be effectively discussed in Twitter-length to's and fro's. The relative lack of women in engineering is one such.

 

Rob Eagle
170 Posts

I am not a “Bot”, I am an individual with an informed opinion.  Just because I don't agree with the current narrative on many issues does not mean I should be cancelled.

I don't agree with social engineering however well intentioned, it is discriminatory and may potentially lead to a lowering of standards which is not in the interests of our profession.  Also, I don't believe in spending billions of OUR tax money fighting climate change when realistically it will have absolutely no effect globally, yes, morally it is probably the right thing to do but unless there is a concerted global effort it is absolutely pointless and will impoverish us.

KevinP
18 Posts

The world has changed since i entered engineering in the 1970s. To be attractive to teenagers today the option of engineering as a career needs to be clearly described as it is now. An 18 yr old girl i know has no interest at all in eng or tech beyond mobile phone and social media.  SChool failed to describe or enthuse her with an eng option. She is not unusual, so much depends on teachers own interests. We need to get interest going. Sort of thing that could inspire is engineers in games software development, or artificial intelligence, or practical hands on say heat pumps, green energy. 

 

There is also the way of thinking that is at the heart of the profession. I was trained as an elec eng, developed avionics, ran projects, managed sw dept, business development, business change consultancy. I approached all of these as a professional engineer, really using systems engineering ..hard and ,'soft'. However business, marketing, management, change management are not seen as engineering so for much of my career i felt the iet was focused heavily on the early years of a career..not me. Even though I was designing and implementing businesses using sys eng ideas and later business development with a strong sys eng focus on customer needs and so on as well as PM. The point here is that the principles of systems engineering can be widely applied and perhaps we need to find a way to be able to show the variety and scope of work possible in an engineers career..make it interesting, varied, show what it can lead to…Which makes me wonder about the scope of the IET…but most of all there is a selling job needed…to all teens ..on what is in offer in engineering and benefits to them..using todays world examples. Are young engineers hot on social media, of course they are, but i have not seen engineering influencers mentioned with millions of followers.

Longer reply than intended, I'm isolated with covid so had some time to spare.

Rob Eagle: 
 

I am not a “Bot”, I am an individual with an informed opinion.  

Your informed opinion on women in engineering is that

IET social engineering….. is becoming far too ‘Woke.’

Could you maybe explain

  • having said this is “informed”, on what information this opinion is based? and
  • what you mean by “Woke” in this context?

 

I don't agree with social engineering however well intentioned, it is discriminatory and may potentially lead to a lowering of standards which is not in the interests of our profession.  

Some of us have written that encouraging talented women into engineering will lead to a raising of standards. Can you address the arguments that have been made for that, to show how it would lead instead to a lowering of standards, as you claim?

 

Also, I don't believe in spending billions of OUR tax money fighting climate change 

This isn't a thread about climate change.

 

Rob Eagle
170 Posts

I was responding to your rather rude assertion that I was a “Bot”, an “unsophisticated” one at that, and yes, I stand by what I said, you can read whatever you like into it but nevertheless I stand by it.

Rob Eagle
170 Posts

To be really contentious, I tend to find that left leaning people, people who feel that they occupy the moral high ground, are the most intolerant of all, they have no regard towards other people's point of view and use whatever means they have to try to shut them down.

Andy Millar
1630 Posts

Amber Thomas: 
 

I think part of the reason that women aren't entering the profession starts such a young age. At school in the 90s, I was very interested in STEM topics and yet the career guidance I was given was to go into teaching, so I could teach STEM topics to others. It wasn't even suggested to me that I consider a STEM career myself! Until my late 20s, the only engineers I had heard of were people who came to fix the boiler or those who performed constant delays on train lines. I had no idea of the breadth of careers that engineering held. If I knew then what I know now, I'm sure I definitely would've considered engineering as a career path.

Absolutely. We have a major challenge in engineering that as children we simply do not come across professional engineers unless we happen to have one in the family. (The same must be an issue for, e.g., quantity surveyors!) I've run an exercise a few times now of asking engineers I work with whether one or both parents were engineers: almost universally the answer was yes, and where it wasn't there was some other STEM based background (the software developer who's parents were accountants, the engineer who came from a medical family but who had an aversion to the sight of blood!). With a bit of thought we shouldn't really be surprised at this - it's unlikely to be because of an engineering “gene”, much more likely that no-one else has a clue what an engineer is, so wouldn't even think of it as a career.

It's well known in genetics that incest is a really bad idea, what we end up with in engineering (and I guess quantity surveying etc) is career incest. 

P.S. Don't get me started on (UK) schools careers advice. It's not the schools fault, they have no budget these days to provide a wide range of effective careers advice - I've seen this collapse in the 20 years I've been voluntarily involved in STEM support activities. Personally I think it was a ridiculous decision to make schools responsible for delivering this, without funding to do so: teachers know about being a teacher, they don't know what they don't about any other profession (and there's no reason why they should).

That all said, I don't know, Amber, what your experience was, but I've found that Primary schools these days are fantastic at giving a huge range of experiences to all children, and generating real enthusiasm, irrespective of pretty much anything. (This is based on my STEM volunteering experience, which of course could have selective bias.) But sadly I agree that at Secondary schools the stereotypes all start cutting in. And it's not necessarily anything to do with the schools. I had a particularly stark example of this when I used to run an after school engineering club that bridged the primary / secondary years. For the primary children the club was often 50/50 boys/girls. As soon as they went up to secondary the girls would come for a couple of weeks and then disappear. Subtle enquiries showed that the girls were coming under peer pressure from their new friends from other schools: “you do what on a Wednesday night, why do you do that?” (I think I posted somewhere else on here about some really interesting recent research on this?)

In the end, as you say, it's going to just take a lot of work to interest any children (again irrespective of anything) in engineering (or indeed most other aspects of STEM, except medicine), just because what we do is invisible in day to day life, even to adults. As suggested above, personally I find the first huge task is to even convince schools that such a career as e.g. design engineering exists (i.e. something beyond car and boiler repairs). Once you can break through that and speak to individual children they're fine - some aren't interested, some are, and in my experience which are and which aren't has nothing to do with gender, race etc, except where peer pressure is over-ruling everything.

Personal note: My children are both interested in sciences and arts. However, my daughter followed her strongest passion and moved into the sciences, I'm delighted to say she's just been given a post-doc position, and there was a key point that helped her ace the interview (the question makes sense in context): “will you be comfortable developing this equipment?” “if it helps, I spent most of my childhood developing and programming robots!”. Meanwhile our son studied philosophy and music, and has just completed his training as a music teacher. The point is, if they had gone through the educational and social environment my wife and I did they would almost certainly have ended up in opposite roles, which would have been a waste of their talents and would have probably made them less happy (and therefore less good at their jobs).  Conversely, if my wife and I were our children's age, with the more relaxed expectations that are now present, I might still have followed the same career path (although I might have gone down a psychology path instead, who knows?), but my wife would definitely have studied more science if she had not been told by her teachers that girls didn't do that. (How do we know that? By a twisted route she ended up in science editing and writing, and realised that was where she wanted to be, but of course with the huge frustration that she has to rely on others for the science knowledge.)

Without positive intervention the self-fulfilling prophecies will continue.

Cheers,

Andy

James Smith
24 Posts

Rob whilst we disagree about several points you have raised I have personally argued that you should have the right to express them.
Without such debate, many members who are not so active in these forums would not appreciate how much needs to be done.

Andy Millar
1630 Posts

Useful background here below from an authoritative source (and a rather “small-c” conservative source, although they won't thank me at all for saying so!). Very well and thoughtfully presented, along with the other associated pages and reports.

James Smith
24 Posts

Thanks Andy, as you say it makes a clear case for why diversity and inclusion should be encouraged.
I can only guess that those who fight against it may be fearful that their own careers and achievements were not won fairly.  Although this might be true to a certain extent, there is more than enough space for anyone within engineering given the historical, current and projected future shortages.

Great find Andy, encouraging to see this come from a place on the political spectrum I'd not always find myself agreeing with. Reassuring to see that the desire for greater inclusion can sometimes bridge political divides, rather than widen them!

I'd be very curious to see how those diversity statistics are shaken up next year when the census results are published.

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