The Advantages of Being Different
By Kate Goldup,
Blog Co-Founder & Fourth Year Aerospace Engineering, University of Bristol
Diversity has become an engineering buzzword, but what does it mean for you?
The short answer is that you can pursue a career in engineering even if you don’t feel like a ‘typical’ engineer. Not only does this mean you are can have a career you love, but your unique perspectives and characteristics will be a positive contribution to the industry.
Wanting diversity in engineering originates from the fight for equality and a movement away from careers based on gender, ethnicity or background. There is no longer a one-size-fits-all image of what an engineer looks like, and more traditional ideas of who can be an engineer continue to be challenged.
Much progress has been made already in achieving a more diverse workforce, and while this should be celebrated, there is still an extremely long way to go. As the graphic below shows, female and black and minority ethnic engineers still account for a very small portion of engineering students and workers. This mirrors my own experience, with noticeably few women and BME students on my Engineering course.
Image credit: RAEng
However, a diverse workforce does not just promote equality, it makes good business sense. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, it would help to reduce the engineering skills shortage the UK is currently facing. Encouraging more people to study engineering creates a wider talent pool and an inclusive environment is more likely to attract and retain the best talent. This also means that if you are considering a career in engineering, the job prospects look promising!
Secondly, diversity results in greater innovation. Working with people different to you challenges your own ideas and forces you to think more critically. A diverse group will be able to contribute a wider range of experiences and are likely to have multiple ways of tackling the same problem. Perhaps this is something you have noticed whilst working in groups yourself? I personally think it is fascinating how many solutions there can be to a single problem.
Diversity not only creates this fresher way of thinking, but also means you are more likely to express differences of opinion rather than conform. Something I recently learnt whilst reading A Good Time to be a Girl, by the incredibly inspiring Helena Morrissey, is that a key turning point is reached at 30 percent. As Morrissey points out, when a team of 10 includes three women, you move from being the single woman in a room full of men to just another member of the team. Not having anyone feel like the odd one out encourages everyone to speak freely and challenge ideas they disagree with, leading to more well-rounded discussions and unique trains of thought.
Whilst I hope you now have a better understanding of why diversity is so important and being different can be advantageous, I want to finish with a word on how you can help to make it a reality. The simplest ways to do this are to do what you love even if it seems different and to champion each other. We must celebrate accomplishments and support failure, especially by those different to ourselves. It is important not to see other people as competition, or their success as a threat to our own progression. Instead we should learn from each other and move forward together.