All male invited speakers at conferences or a senior leadership team that contains not a single woman are common across the employment landscape. In the physical sciences and engineering the problem is particularly acute because the numbers of women who start off in the sector are unacceptably low. On the back of this the Institution of Engineering and Technology has been running a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #9%isnotenough, corresponding to the fact that in the engineering workforce that is the approximate percentage of female engineers (for a general overview see here). When talking about diversity we need, of course, to think much more broadly than just about women: ethnicity and disability should equally form a focus, and which direction you should be putting most effort into does depend on the details of your organisation.
Recognizing this, the Science Council has just launched a new initiative directed at Diversity and Inclusion amongst its member bodies. The Science Council, working in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Engineering , has drawn up and launched this week what they call a Diversity and Inclusion Progression Framework aimed at focussing the minds of the 63 engineering and science professional bodies who make up the membership of the Science Council.
Universities and individual university departments as well as Research Institutes have been able to use the Athena Swan process to monitor (and get recognition for) their work around gender diversity and progression for a number of years. But for many other organisations no comparable framework exists. The Science Council hopes that if the parent professional bodies scrutinise their own behaviour it will help to spread the word to those who work in the sector wherever they may be. It is an interesting initiative as a way to effect culture change.
The framework considers eight areas on which the organisations will be expected to reflect:
- Governance and Leadership;
- Membership and professional registration;
- Meetings, conferences and events;
- Education and training, accreditation and exams;
- Prizes, awards and grants;
- Communications, marketing, outreach and engagement;
- Monitoring and measuring.
Under each of these topics there is a four-level ‘maturity model’, identifying how far on an organisation is in its progression, and indications are given as to what might be expected for each of ‘Initiating, Developing, Engaging and Evolving’ stages.
Reading through their leaflet describing the process, it is clear how organisations tackling the different headings may be able to disseminate best practice to their own members. Consider the example I mentioned at the start of this post: all male platforms. Since so many conferences are organised directly by or under the auspices of a professional body, it is immediately obvious how greater internal consideration of gender and ethnic mix on the platform – not to mention accessibility issues for speakers as well as the audience – may lead to an improvement in experience for all. It will take time to work its way through the organisations and into the wider culture but every step counts.
Some of the member organisations will be further on in their internal reflections than others. The Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry I know have both been active for many years in the broader diversity arena, with the IOP having worked very closely with schools and teachers in particular, as well as developing Project Juno. Other member organisations with which I am less familiar have probably been busy too. Nevertheless, no doubt every organisation can do more within at least some of the eight headings to ensure their entire profession is mobilised to improving the climate around diversity and inclusion.
For engineering in particular, it is clear how much the problems start early in attracting – or putting off – girls into the profession. Clearly this framework can’t turn that around overnight. Whether you blame it on parents, teachers, peers or society, the problems run deep. However, reaching out to more tiers of the profession through their professional bodies has to be a sensible strategy as part of the much wider cultural alignment we seem so slow to be achieving in the UK. I wish the Science Council’s initiative every success; it will be interesting to see how it pans out as the framework gets embedded in organisations and the Science Council carries out benchmarking during 2017.