Diversity in manufacturing: The hidden cost of bias

Posted on 23 May 2018 by The Manufacturer

Engineering is losing a potential £11.2bn due to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) engineers feeling unable to be their full selves at work, causing a 30% reduction in productivity.

Engineering lags behind other industrial sectors in terms of equality and diversity for LGBT+ people. A 2016 House of Commons investigation, in association with InterEngineering, reported that a culture of homophobia and transphobia have become embedded among workers, and this is having a negative impact on both workers and productivity.

InterEngineering was established by LGBT+ rights advocate, Dr Mark McBride-Wright.

Diversity in Engineering - IET
Engineering is losing a potential £11.2bn caused by a 30% reduction in productivity.

I set up InterEngineering in 2014 to connect, inform and empower LGBT+ engineers and supporters.

As a result, we have seen LGBT+ networks being created at some leading engineering companies, and flourish into internal employee resource groups that help support people with any issues relating to their sexual orientation or gender identity, and to educate the wider workforce and supply base on the importance of these diversity strands.

We all know we need to attract the best talent into the sector, and drive productivity, but how can we ever achieve this if there is a percentage of our workforce potentially distracted because they don’t feel able to bring their full selves to work?

Not being out at work is like walking a permanent tightrope; it can play havoc with people’s minds. Just a small example: having to choose the ‘correct’ pronoun to describe one’s partner.

It is estimated that 1% of the population is transgender. And within that community, it is thought that up to 50% have considered or attempted suicide. This is incredibly alarming.

You may think 1% is very small, but consider the size of your organisation. How many people constitute 1% of your workforce? Now consider 50% of that group attempting suicide.

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We need to raise more awareness on this because we are simply not having the conversation. People are oblivious. For an industry that prides itself on positive safety cultures, we need to do more on mental health and wellbeing.

Inclusion is all about creating a culture where everyone feels valued, and will thrive because of the positive enablement that surrounds them. And this includes white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, middle-aged, able-bodied men.

Women & Diversity in Manufacturing Summit 2018

The conversation on inclusion includes them, it includes us all, but unfortunately, we often get lost in the zero-sum game of a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality, or the idea that opportunities need to be foregone in order for advancement of underrepresented groups.

I believe that by focussing on inclusion, asking people what their diversity story is, what is it that makes them different, and what they bring to the table, will make for a more engaged conversation on diversity and inclusion with active listeners.

Right now, I feel the dialogue is shallow, on the periphery, and not yet part of the core of organisational strategy and, ultimately, the culture of the industry. Progress is being made, but it is slow, and one-dimensional.

To help develop a much deeper conversation around true diversity, I set up EqualEngineers, which works with organisations on inclusive recruitment, training and consultancy.

We run careers fairs annually and have had a great uptake from female, ethnic minority, LGBT+ and disabled engineering students and apprenticeship-seekers.

My vision is to increase the attraction of our events and in so doing, increase the diversity of the engineering profession.

But we all need to act together to create the culture where people from all backgrounds can thrive, so that we can retain the best talent that lies within all of us.

Being one’s full self

Juergen Maier, CEO - UK & Ireland, Siemens.
Juergen Maier, CEO – UK & Ireland, Siemens.

The CEO of Siemens UK, Juergen Maier, is one of the most recognisable industrialists in the UK. Yet his personal success story was only made possible by having the courage – and the freedom – to be fully himself at work.

“While there might not be any direct prejudice or discrimination in companies, there is what we call unconscious bias. And what that means in a simple sense is that we aren’t making everybody feel equally comfortable in our organisations. And that can especially apply to people of ethnic minorities or the LGBT+ community.

“When that happens, you just don’t get the best out of everybody in the organisation. I can speak to you from personal experience. As a gay man in an engineering career, it took me quite some time to get my confidence to be able to be out, to be who I really am.

“It was only after that point that I was able to reach my full potential in the organisation. Before that, I wasn’t being my full self, and that’s not right.

“We need to give everybody the chance, in all industries, to be comfortable with who they are and to contribute to their maximum potential. And that way, we have great organisations, great innovation, and we want more of that.”

Unconscious bias

It is easy to say, ‘I am NOT homophobic!’ (or ‘I do not discriminate against women!’) and believe that is enough.

The fact is, all of us, no matter how free from bias we think ourselves, can still be guided by unconscious bias.

The government definition of this is: Implicit or unconscious bias happens by our brains making incredibly quick judgments and assessments of people and situations without us realising.

Our biases are influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. We may not even be aware of these views and opinions, or be aware of their full impact and implications.

Research has found that unconscious bias can heavily influence recruitment and selection decisions. Several experiments using CV shortlisting exercises have highlighted bias by gender and ethnicity.

InterEngineering has a corporate partner programme and welcomes organisations interested in joining who share their mission to connect, inform and empower LGBT+ engineers and supporters.

Their work is endorsed and supported by all the main professional engineering membership organisations. Learn more here.

Dr Mark McBride-Wright CEng MIChemE

The founder of EqualEngineers, and chair and co-founder of InterEngineering. He runs training courses and seminars to help companies create a more inclusive, accepting culture in the workplace. To learn more or exhibit at EqualEngineers Apprenticeship & Graduate Careers Fairs in September (Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, London & Edinburgh) visit: www.equalengineers.com/events