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We're asking the right questions about diversity Richard Chapman-Harris

Engineering and infrastructure sectors are not renowned for leading the way in equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). We’re working to change that.

UK research gives us an idea of the scale of this global problem. Only 14% of UK female graduates of STEM disciplines actually go into careers in science, engineering and technology, compared with 33% of male graduates (according to the WISE UK Statistics Guide 2010), and 46% of LGBT engineers are prevented from being open about their sexuality by fears about negative reactions in the workplace (according to Institution of Engineering & Technology research).

In my experiences as a diversity practitioner I have seen differing levels of energy for EDI initiatives.

Both positive energy and negative energy can be channelled into effective action. Positive energy can be captured by actively engaging proactive stakeholders – as we are doing with Advance, our employee network for EDI – and negative energy can lead to improvements when we ensure staff concerns are heard, and addressed where possible, with a genuine desire to resolve problems.

We need to harness energy wherever it comes from, and help people understand EDI initiatives in order to increase energy where it’s lacking. To achieve that, we need to better understand the status of EDI within our organisation and our industries.

Here’s what we’re asking ourselves at Mott MacDonald:

  • 1. What are our people telling us? We’ve listened to our employees’ feedback through surveys and focus groups, undertaken in partnership with UK industry experts Investors in People and the National Centre for Diversity, and we’re undertaking audits and reviews with further employee engagement opportunities this year. We need to foster the enthusiasm of our people – our business is nothing without their diverse and innovative minds.
  • 2. What does our data tell us? We simply can't manage what we can't measure. We need better, more consistent and comprehensive diversity monitoring of our workforce in order to make objective decisions based on statistical evidence. Our current data tells us that to surpass national census averages we need to be more racially diverse and should have better female representation at senior levels. This is echoed at a national level in the UK, with the Government’s Women on Boards review setting a voluntary 25% target for female representation on FTSE 100 Boards by this year (up from 12.5% in 2011).
  • 3. What is happening out there? What do our clients want, and how are our peers achieving EDI success? Communication is key, so we’re improving internal connectivity by connecting staff through new platforms such as Yammer and Lync. We’re also fostering industry-wide communication by hosting a Business in the Community roundtable event for diversity and inclusion professionals to share ideas with other key players in our industries.

By asking the right questions and keeping our eyes and ears out for best practice, we’re aiming for real change, to show what can happen when an organisation is committed to EDI.

The ‘inclusion’ aspect of EDI can only be effectively driven once the ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’ concerns have been addressed. How can everyone be included if certain groups aren't involved? Moreover, do we truly know what our expectant mothers, retirement-age, transgender or other employees need from us in order to level the playing field?

We believe that treating everyone the same is not enough. Instead, we must value difference and readily make reasonable adjustments where possible to aid performance – for the benefit of our people, our organisation and our clients.

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