‘Inclusion is key to your bottom line’, says Royal Academy of Engineering CEO.
Hayaatun Sillem, CEO at the Royal Academy of Engineering, believes that all employers can learn from its study of corporate culture in the engineering industry
In October the Royal Academy of Engineering published the results of a UK survey seeking the views of more than 7,000 engineers about the culture of their profession. While the poll found broad agreement among respondents that there are numerous positive traits – including loyalty, teamwork, safety-consciousness and flexibility – it also highlighted significant differences of opinion across both gender and race lines. For instance, men were far more likely than women to say that gender is irrelevant to how they’re viewed at work (82 per cent versus 43 per cent). Black and minority ethnic (BME) engineers, meanwhile, were more likely than their white counterparts to report that colleagues have made assumptions about them based on their ethnicity (85 per cent versus 58 per cent).
“As you would expect, women feel less included than men and BME groups feel less included than white groups,” says Hayaatun Sillem, the academy’s CEO and director of strategy. “It’s a reminder that the world looks different from different perspectives.”
The survey also examined the business benefits of inclusivity, producing findings that will resonate in industries far beyond engineering. Some 80 per cent of respondents said that the feeling of inclusion increased their motivation, for instance, while 68 per cent said that it improved their overall performance.
Inclusivity “is something that any company thinking hard about its bottom line should want to maximise”, says Sillem, who believes that concerted action by employers to tackle the issue will go a long way towards closing the nation’s growth-limiting skills gap.
“Only nine per cent of this country’s professional engineers are women – the lowest proportion in Europe and a disappointing figure in 2017,” she says. “Six per cent are from a BME background, compared with 14 per cent of the population as a whole – and 26 per cent of UK engineering students. It seems absolutely evident that you’re not going to tackle your skills shortage unless you tackle your diversity and inclusion shortfall.”
A 2015 study by Deloitte and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative found a particular intolerance among millennials of employers that don’t allow them to “be authentic” – a key factor in inclusivity. Indeed, Sillem notes that “inclusion is more of a priority for millennials entering the workplace than it is for the generation that’s now leading companies. If your firm has a culture that doesn’t value female or minority ethnic employees, the reputational cost can be very high. We can all think of recent examples of US companies whose reputations have been severely dented by the view that they don’t value diversity and inclusion. The most talented people can choose where they work – they’re the most mobile ones who are extremely employable. Why would they choose an organisation where they don’t feel valued?”
A linked factor, she argues, is the inability of less inclusive organisations to engage effectively with customers and clients from certain demographic groups. Becoming disconnected from various market segments that you might want to target could limit your ability to succeed in those areas, she warns, adding: “The purchasing power of women has become increasingly important in the UK, for instance. If your company has a culture in which the voices of its female employees are not heard, it risks losing its competitive edge.”
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