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ICE Community blog

Diversity in the time of Covid

23 September 2020

Andrew Stanley is Head of Education Policy. He has supported ICE’s Fairness, Inclusion and Respect Committee, looking at diversity and inclusion over the past few COVID affected months.

Diversity in the time of Covid
ICE celebrates the diversity of its membership with a series of committee guidelines

January 2020 started on an optimistic note with an invitation to ICE to enter the Engineering Talent Awards, celebrating the diversity of the engineering profession, sponsored by EqualEngineers with The Royal Academy of Engineering and SSE. Sadly, the event was postponed from a dinner in April to a virtual event in September. No spoilers at this point about the outcome.

Our submission for the award was an invaluable opportunity to reflect on what ICE, and by ICE I mean our members, have achieved in this space. The enthusiasm of our membership has enabled a variety of local and national initiatives to flourish – Lean-In groups to share best employer practice; participation in Pride parades in London, Wales, Scotland and Manchester with the Pride Flag raised at One Great George Street.

The diversity of ICE membership

We celebrated the diversity of our Members with a photo-banner exhibition in foyer there, and more pragmatic work such as the development of committee guidelines for selecting speakers, events, gender-neutral language, succession-planning and guidelines for reviewers for interviewing neuro-diverse candidates. We also reinforced our approach towards partnering. We were one of the first professional bodies to commit to the Royal Academy of Engineering and Science Council Diversity and Inclusion Framework; this allows us to monitor our ED&I progress. Our partnership saw us working with WISE and SEMTA, where we developed an Apprenticeship Toolkit aimed at supporting employers in their attempts to encourage more women into apprenticeships.

Diversity data has enabled us to carry out intersectional analysis
Diversity data has enabled us to carry out intersectional analysis

We have also developed a significant anonymised dataset with 52% of Members globally declaring diversity data (thank you), which has enabled us to carry out intersectional analysis. It has also allowed employers to benchmark their data against a wider cohort. The UK Scorecard we have set ourselves looks at Members under 40 years of age – we know the gender imbalance is in the older age-range and retrospective action is virtually impossible – we cannot unpick the career choice realities of 20-30 years ago. We have made progress over the past 4 years with female student membership increasing from 19 to 22% and female minority ethnic 1 membership rising from 4.6% to 10.5%. Female Graduate membership has risen from 18.3% to 22.5% and at CEng/IEng women comprise 20.5% of Members under 40, with a rise to 7.5% from minority backgrounds. With regards to EngTech registration, men from minority ethnic backgrounds now comprise 20.5% of Members up from 16.8%, four years ago. This is set against a national background of 13.2% BAME (ONS).

Making a difference based on evidence

Unsurprisingly, the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Officers, caused disquiet among ICE’s membership, particularly among our younger members. Members seemed more open to sharing stories of micro-aggressions and more serious discriminatory behaviour. Also, anecdotal accounts were emerging that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic members may be more likely to be furloughed or be at risk of redundancy.

Establishing the real situation and gaining a long view on such issues is important. We want to make a difference based on evidence. Much of the summer therefore has been spent working with the Fairness Inclusion and Respect Committee, AFBE (the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers) and a committed volunteer group of graduate members. The product will be a survey which addresses the issue of racial inequality and the impact on those who experience it. We will use the returned evidence to produce toolkits for employers so that practical solutions and support mechanisms result from this activity. Capturing our BAME members’ experiences and allowing their needs to be articulated will allow ICE to deliver real products aimed at changing behaviours and practically equipping those charged with ensuring fairness and inclusion in our companies.

We need to do more

Anyway, back to the Engineering Talent Awards – we made the final three and came a highly commended second, which is exactly as we would want (!) Success breeds success and pride at making it to the last two (out of the 38 Professional Engineering Institutions) should allow us to reinforce success and drive out failure. We want to be the best we can be – second place recognises progress but removes any sense of complacency. We need to do more.

As a large and long-established institution, ICE will always have more to do is we are to become genuinely inclusive. We don’t know enough about disability, impairment and illness and the impact on members who will have to work longer before retirement. The FIR Committee produced a strong community blog on shared parental leave – an issue which should be revisited and kept on the agenda. Over the summer, we made available on-line modules to help furloughed members with their professional development, and a summer scheme for students who were unable to secure placements. The QUEST scholarship scheme moved online and, thanks to the participating companies, ensured a cohort of students weren’t denied this opportunity, on top of a disrupted A level year.

Call to action

The cultural change we need to see is unlikely to be delivered in a single generation, but we can allow ourselves some optimism. Like British Cycling, improved performance associated success comes from marginal gains, and real change will come from our membership. If there has been one benefit from this pandemic, it has been the way we have embraced online working and organising, and an upsurge in interest and commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. So, the call-to-arms is find when your local diversity groups meet or in the absence of such groups…start one!

1 There is a lot of debate about the use of this term, used here as an umbrella for ONS categories for convenience, rather than BAME, POC, BIPOC, Global Majority.
  • Andrew Stanley, head of education policy at Institution of Civil Engineers