The business case for diversity is stronger than it has ever been. Not to mention the moral and fairness reasons for diversity in the workplace. Despite this, women make up just 16.5% of all engineers in the UK. While this number continues to rise, there is clearly more the sector can do.
“It’s not enough to attract women into STEM roles,” says Tinashe Mutore, Development Engineer and D&I Chair at semiconductor manufacturing company Edwards Vacuum. “How a company harnesses and maximises the potential of that diversity is just as important. It’s not enough to invite someone to the party – or even ask them to dance. As a woman in STEM, I want to be planning the party.”
Tackling misconceptions in the manufacturing sector
“The surprise I often see when I tell a new acquaintance I’m a chemical engineer shows there aren’t enough women in the sector,” says Mutore. “After the initial reaction, the next challenge is something I am sure engineers from all backgrounds face. It’s finding a simple answer to the question, “What do you do?”.
“Working for Edwards, I first need to explain that I don’t make vacuum cleaners! I develop clean air machines that make the semiconductor industry more environmentally friendly. And while I love the opportunities this gives me to use my skills, innovate and learn, as with any job it’s the people that make it. That’s where the other side of my role comes in.
“As Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Chair at Edwards, I am passionate about ensuring D&I initiatives are more than just a tick box exercise. As always, there’s always more to do, however I believe we have an open and inclusive culture here. Not only for women in STEM but for everyone. Drawing on my experience as D&I Chair at Edwards, below are five tips that have proved to be effective in developing this culture.”
1. Get leadership support
“D&I is an important topic and as a sector we aren’t making progress fast enough. That’s why support needs to come from the top. To be clear, that doesn’t mean the Board or senior leadership team delegating responsibility to a committee or individual and treating it as job done. As D&I Chair, I have a monthly meeting with the General Manager of Edwards’ Clevedon site. He’s incredibly invested in the importance of what the D&I committee are doing and finding ways to facilitate change.
“Equally, it’s not just a case of reporting progress back to management. If there’s an issue the committee is struggling to solve, the leadership team gets involved, contributing ideas and support to get things done. I also attend a monthly meeting with our parent company, Atlas Copco, and it’s great to have this senior level support.”
2. Ask your people before you act
“It’s an old adage that it’s hard to know whether you’ve been successful if you don’t know where you started. At the same time, setting goals is important to ensure progress.
“We conducted a D&I survey a couple of years ago to discover areas for improvement and what our team wanted us to concentrate on. This identified some key initiatives where we should direct our efforts. Getting input from your people at the outset helps to increase buy-in, as well as ensuring you focus on areas that are important to the whole team – not just a small sub-set.”
3. Pick an achievable goal and focus on it
“Sometimes something small can have a big impact. For instance, our D&I survey showed that the women on the team would feel supported by free sanitary products in the bathrooms. It’s a relatively inexpensive thing to offer that makes a real difference to the everyday.
“When it comes to increasing the proportion of women on the team, our longer-term goal is to recruit for more diversity. But more immediately our focus is workplace inclusion. That means creating an environment where everyone can speak their minds, regardless of their gender or background. We want everyone to know they will never be judged for being themselves.”
4. Don’t avoid the uncomfortable topics
“I didn’t want to be D&I Chair for the sake of it – I got involved to bring about change. My fellow committee members are the same and that means speaking up about issues in the workplace that we want to tackle.
“We might not always agree, but if there’s an environment where people listen and respectfully consider the opinions of others there is an opportunity to move forward. There might have been some initial reluctance to discuss sanitary products, but talking about periods shouldn’t be different to talking about any other health issue. We found that any initial hesitancy dispersed after we started an open conversation.”
5. Promote a culture of ‘ask and learn’
“Placing value on honesty in your organisation has multiple benefits. For example, if someone feels they can be honest about a mistake, everyone can learn from it and move on. This psychological safety also applies to uncertainties people might have about issues related to D&I.
“For example, our D&I survey showed there were gaps in people’s knowledge about topics such as gender pronouns. We’ve introduced more education to support our team in this area, and we’ve also worked hard to create a culture where it is okay to ask if you are unsure. Individuals are also encouraged to accept being corrected if they get it wrong.”
No magic bullet for D&I in manufacturing
None of these steps are overly complicated, but Mutore accepts that there is no magic bullet.
“At Edwards, we have seen that it takes a consistent and concerted effort to create a culture where everyone feels a sense of belonging. This culture supports D&I and it of course extends to other areas. We are creating an environment where it’s okay to ask questions, raise concerns and make mistakes – so that we can all learn and grow. Not only to be more inclusive of women in STEM, but also ensuring everyone feels valued and welcome here.”