Policy and strategy development can account for the needs of all at the earliest stage, writes Jonathan Spruce.
As a membership organisation and an employer, the ICE values diversity.
We work to create a fairer environment, free from harassment and discrimination, in which everybody feels included, valued, and able to challenge prejudice and approach their work with open and critical minds.
The latest quarterly meeting of the ICE Policy and External Affairs Committee (PEAC) took place in July. It focused on how PEAC can uphold these values in its work and what PEAC could do to actively promote diversity and inclusion.
As you might expect, the ensuing discussion was lively and challenging!
It’s important to acknowledge all diversity characteristics
An important point noted was that diversity and inclusion can often focus on ethnicity and gender.
It’s important to recognise all diversity characteristics in PEAC’s work.
As built environment professionals, we can play a particularly important role in addressing ability and disability. Any infrastructure we deliver or modify should be accessible to everyone.
The 2010 Equality Act identifies nine characteristics protected by UK law: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.
Current thinking acknowledges an even wider list of diversity characteristics that includes mental health, neurodiversity, and socioeconomic background.
We need to measure progress
We also acknowledged that we need a better baseline data set against which to judge progress.
Within the ICE’s committee membership, there’s a record of how diversity and inclusion has been addressed.
But very often, attendance at and participation in ICE events is only monitored on an ad hoc basis.
There’s also a lack of information about the lived experiences of ICE members. This is an area we need to improve upon.
A further point raised was the international nature of the ICE’s work, and that diversity and inclusion aims should include sensitivity to different cultures, languages, and nationalities.
How can policy work specifically address diversity and inclusion?
The biggest question PEAC debated, however, was how our work in policy can influence diversity and inclusion efforts.
Is this a bigger issue for the civil engineering industry in general? Is PEAC simply a small cog in a much bigger wheel?
The consensus among PEAC members was that there are three stages within the process, working backwards as follows:
- Policy and strategy development: ensuring that frameworks account for the needs of all of society at an early stage
- Industry attitudes: ensuring that nobody involved in infrastructure delivery experiences discrimination
- Infrastructure delivery: ensuring that nobody is excluded from benefitting from the intended outcomes
The ICE more widely has a key role to play in the third stage.
Individual organisations that employ ICE members are responsible for the second.
That leaves a clear role for PEAC in advocating and promoting the first.
PEAC concluded that in an ideal world, the values of diversity and inclusion would be fully embedded in all areas of work.
Until then, we should – and will – challenge ourselves and track progress.
Following the results of the recent ICE survey, the next committee meeting in October 2023 will explore how to improve member involvement across ICE’s policy and external affairs activities.
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