Paving the way for equal opportunities

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Equality and inclusion are at the forefront of today’s global agenda and provide an essential cornerstone to delivering a green recovery in the infrastructure sector.

Over the last decade, diversity and inclusion initiatives and policies have been essential for infrastructure and engineering organisations worldwide. The agenda in this area has been driven by a number of key issues including, a growing recognition of the lack of equal opportunities, a skills shortage driven by current global needs, an acknowledgement that diverse teams lead to an improvement in innovation, profit and high quality engineering and an increasing understanding that an inclusive mindset will help address the sustainable development goals (SDGs) more holistically.

Today, the world is home to the largest generation of youth in history – 1.8 billion, with approximately 90% living in developing countries where they account for a significant population percentage. Engineers play a crucial role in addressing climate change and the SDGs. However, the need for increased engineering capacity to tackle these challenges is paramount and currently, women engineers are grossly underrepresented in the equation.

According to a 2019 study conducted by the Society of Women Engineers, only 13% of engineers are women, 70% of women who earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering leave the industry after twenty years, and 30% of those who leave cite organisational climate as the reason.

A recent FIDIC webinar event titled ‘Improving diversity and inclusion in the engineering industry’ pointed out that not only does the industry need to encourage more women in STEM professions, it also needs to address a vital retention issue. Many women leave the industry for other sectors, especially between the age of 30-35 and attracting and retaining women in the industry is crucial to the sector meeting its equality and inclusivity commitments. There is an increasing need for human resource policies that create incentives to hire and retain women. Examples of these include facilitating on-the-job training, family friendly policies, designating senior mentors and instating other conditions to attract and retain.

With the current global goals and Covid-19 pandemic, there are new challenges and opportunities for engineering professionals worldwide and never has there been a more critical time to address the capacity challenge and encourage more women to join the industry.

UNESCO’s recent 2021 report on ‘Engineering for Sustainable Development’ sets out six recommendations to address existing barriers around diversity and inclusion in the industry. These six recommendations centre around:

  • Providing barrier free pathways in educational institutions
  • Fostering a workplace culture of change adaptation
  • Leadership focused on embedding the values of diversity and inclusion
  • Increase in government funding for key priorities
  • Identifying and addressing systemic and structural discrimination
  • and finally adopting the ‘leave no one behind’ ethos currently embedded in the SDGs

These recommendations paint a small picture of the current solutions and options available to pave the way for a more inclusive and diverse industry. Allowing for equality will enable not only a more inclusive and collaborative workforce, ensure equal opportunities for all, gender equality, decent work and economic growth but also allow for a fairer, more resilient and sustainable world.

Download UNESCO’s ‘Engineering for Sustainable Development’ report here.