When it comes to promoting greater equity, inclusion and fairness in the workplace, we know that diversity of all kinds is essential. But the numbers for the U.K. show we have some work ahead. According to the Royal Academy of Engineering, the U.K., at 8%, has the lowest percentage of female professional engineers of any European country.

This statistic represents a damaging loss of talent and a neglected opportunity for the engineering sector. A lack of diversity is hampering our ability to stay competitive and Build Back Better after the pandemic.

Aside from helping the engineering sector flourish, diversity is integral to smooth and effective design, implementation and execution of individual projects.

Here are five ways in which every engineering project can be enhanced by more diverse teams.

1. Creativity and Innovation

As the U.K. transitions to net zero, our energy networks are undergoing massive transformation. This means the demand for creativity and innovation in the engineering sector has never been greater. If we are to stand a chance of meeting the 2050 target, we must harness all the talent we can get.

According to a number of studies, diverse teams bring a range of different views and experiences and create a richer and more stimulating environment, enhancing innovation. The studies confirm that when a team is composed of people with varying perspectives, arising from their education, experience or identity, the collective intelligence is greater than that of a more homogenous team. When there is an inclusive culture that fosters and encourages different viewpoints and effective collaboration, creativity flourishes.

This innovative spirit is important in all businesses and sectors, but particularly so in engineering, where innovative design — which sets the tone of the entire project — is so vital.

2. Motivated and Productive Teams

Improving employee engagement and performance is another key driver for diversity. Inclusive teams are more motivated because they feel part of a greater whole. This generates increased productivity and boosts overall retention rates, providing clients with a stable, consistent workforce. Over time, this creates strong collaboration, benefiting all parties.

In this way there is a tangible connection between diversity and financial performance. It is widely confirmed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median.

Simply put, businesses that commit to diverse leadership and teams are more successful in the long run.

3. Fast Learning and Effective Problem-Solving

Sometimes it can feel like a project is one long list of challenges to be overcome. The ability to solve problems rapidly and to move past hurdles as a team, with limited friction, is integral to engineering project delivery.

People with diverse mindsets are more likely to be able to bring their experiences to bear on problem-solving and are more likely to learn from others, making this process smoother. Learning from mistakes is also crucial. Continual review and improvement should be a core tenet of all engineering projects, from design through construction.

Using reactive and proactive procedures to minimise nonconformity and maximise continuous improvement initiatives helps to drive efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility to develop improved outcomes.

4. Positive Partnerships

Diversity within supply chain partners and subcontractors is an area of huge importance for engineering businesses. Firms that diversify their supply chains enjoy benefits such as new ways of looking at product development and marketing, access to new markets and an enhanced brand. Cultural insight from different perspectives is an important part of this.

Supplier diversity also means we are helping support diversity, equity and inclusion on a broader scale by seeing that the businesses that supply our organisation are living up to these standards.

5. Satisfied Customers

What all of this adds up to is simple — better project outcomes and more positive client and partner relationships. Indeed, research shows that organisations that are successful at creating an inclusive culture have higher customer satisfaction ratings overall.

Increasingly, diversity, inclusion and equality are key strategic drivers for engineering clients across the board — and they want to see this cascaded down into their own supply chains. National Grid, for example, places workforce diversity as central to achieving its goals and champions initiatives to encourage young women to consider engineering as a career. SSEN is another example, placing diversity and inclusion at the heart of its Sustainability Plan through its ‘IN, ON, UP’ inclusion strategy. Matching clients’ expectations is key to the success of projects and longevity of relationships.

Delivering on a customer’s strategic plan starts with people. If customers see our teams are diverse and take note that we are applying diversity and inclusion principles across our organisations, a project is more likely to proceed on a positive basis.

It Starts With Us

We need to do better when it comes to diversity, and the reasons why are clear. But moving up from 8% will be an ambitious undertaking. It will require big changes in multiple areas — from government, regulators, educators and so on.

Before casting blame elsewhere, we must look within and realise it starts with us, the businesses on the front line. It starts with how we build our teams, embedding diversity, equity and inclusion into our practices on recruitment, culture and performance evaluation. We must champion women and those from diverse backgrounds.

This International Women in Engineering Day, let’s hope businesses in all sectors are inspired to do more to promote diversity in STEM, review their own practices and think creatively about how they can make a difference, to the benefit of their people, clients and partners.


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Zoe Dempsey is U.K. business development director at Burns & McDonnell. With two decades of experience, she works to help utility clients propel the U.K. towards a zero-carbon future.