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Shaping the world by defining #TheLine

21 April 2023

We need to do better to help the ICE become and stay diverse, says trustee Paula McMahon.

Shaping the world by defining #TheLine
We can all do more, and we absolutely can and should be helping each other. Image credit: Paula McMahon

I want us to tackle our current way of thinking, as a whole society, in a neutral, accessible, non-judgemental format for everyone.

As such, I’ve set up a simple social media campaign that poses statements supplied anonymously, and simply asks: ‘Is this over the line?’

First #TheLine poll"Our first poll was judged overwhelmingly over #TheLine," says Paula.

So, let’s define #TheLine

Everyone can put forward ideas for the polls to Define #TheLine.

It could be something said to you, something you’ve said, or you simply wonder what others think.

I want these to be varied and cover many aspects of diversity and sustainability and I welcome those which are not obviously negative.

The aim is to collate our responses to help inform people not to use those which have crossed the line and think about when and where to appropriately use those that the majority think is OK.

These are all purposefully anonymised and neutralised so those taking part can do so freely.

Why should civil engineers care about diversity?

The ICE’s aim is to shape the world to create a more sustainable future.

As civil engineers, we make decisions which quite literally affect the lives of everyone on the planet, from individual infrastructure users to material selection which has climate effects globally.

Those who determine the future of our built environment surely need to have a diverse profile which matches the society we serve.

But, more importantly, since we cannot continue with ‘business as usual’ we need to ensure that we think differently by having a diversity of thought; we need new thinking!

I’ve worked in civil engineering design and construction for over 30 years and during this time I have seen great strides made in terms of diversity.

In my recent NCE Trustee Viewpoint, I said that the ICE is in a strong position to move forward with a 15% female membership and a notable increase in Black and minority ethnic membership levels.

Wider engineering trends related to socio-demographic characteristics have also become more favourable according to a Engineering UK report.

So, job done then? Unfortunately, not.

Attracting and keeping our future diverse workforce

I think we all recognise the need to inspire the next generation, and the ICE has invested in great tools like the ICE careers centre.

Most of us who work with students also understand the importance of representation, as young people need to ‘see it to be it’.

However, when people are attracted into our profession, we need to keep them there.

The recent Career Deflection Report shows diversity declines dramatically at higher levels of seniority.

Considering anyone as token members of the team who ‘tick’ the diversity box is harmful.

Unfortunately, I still hear reports of people in meetings being labelled as ‘difficult’ for putting forward a different view, or one that others don’t understand.

What’s the point of inviting diverse new members into the boardroom if don’t listen to them or value their opinions?

If you wish to consider approaches in your organisation to make improvements, you can look at tools and ideas related to unconscious bias training, examples of EDI schemes, actions to tackle racism and of course utilise the ICE’s Anti-Racism Toolkit.

But we are still falling short

Unfortunately, despite our many action plans, policies, tool kits and good intentions, we are falling far short of where we need to be.

I know from personal experience and speaking to others that detrimental effects of misunderstandings, micro-aggressions and inappropriate comments are felt by individuals in every sector.

If we do not act, this will get worse and the good work done to improve diversity will be offset, or even lost, forever.

And leaving actions to those affected

We are leaving the fight to those who are marginalised.

You need look no further than the authors of the ICE blogs cited in this blog to find evidence.

I’ve heard more than once around International Women’s Day that ‘we don’t have an International Men’s Day’.

There is one, of course, but fewer men have historically got on board. Although I’m pleased to say this has gained more traction recently.

This imbalance has the capability of furthering differences between ‘them and us’.

On a daily level, I have witnessed people struggle to decide if they should speak up when something uncomfortable or offensive has been said to themselves or to others.

I have personally been told that offensive and inappropriate language ‘did not cause any offence’ by the perpetrator, who deemed it to be a ‘light-hearted comment’.

It seems that those who are victimised are constantly having to ask themselves if they are being too sensitive.

#TheLine founder motivationAs founder, this was my motivation to start #TheLine, says Paula. 

Acknowledging uncomfortable truths

I truly believe we need to look forward and not beat ourselves up about the past; what is done is done.

However, acknowledging that our past lack of diversity (which literally lines the walls of the ICE’s One Great George Street) leaves us with a legacy today.

Our history of handpicking people for key positions in the industry is slowly being replaced with more transparent processes that everyone understands and has access to.

However, the slow pace of change is there for all to see.

For example at a recent high-profile event, anyone who was not wearing a black suit stood out.

However, I’ve found those who aren’t directly affected are confused and frustrated, as they simply don’t understand, or feel uncomfortable about it.

While I empathise with this, swapping out one set of people being uncomfortable for another drives more wedges between us.

One person said to me very recently ‘you’re making this too complicated’.

What can we do to bring together the majority and the underrepresented in a simple way?

This is where #TheLine campaign comes in.

Find out more about The Line

You can help make the world fairer and more sustainability through education by:

Together, we can make the world a better place as civil engineers and citizens of the world we live in.

The ICE's Anti-Racism Toolkit

The ICE’s Anti-Racism Toolkit is designed to help workplaces become more inclusive.

It gives examples of microaggressions, with clear explanations of why they are offensive.

It also links to resources to help users understand their effect and advises on how to avoid them.

Access the toolkit

Blogs disclaimer

  • Paula McMahon, #TheLine founder and regional supervising officer at Sir Robert McAlpine