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Engineering must deal with ‘macho’ culture, report finds

The UK’s engineering sector has been too slow in supporting inclusivity which will hold it back from being a key player in the global race for engineering skills if nothing changes, says a new report.

The Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) commissioned research to better understand how engineers perceive the current culture of their profession and whether it is attracting, developing and retaining the number and diversity of engineers the UK needs.

While three quarters of the engineers surveyed believed inclusion in their profession has improved in the past five years, underrepresented groups are less likely to view the culture in this way. Reports of ‘masculine’ and ‘macho’ culture remain prevalent in certain parts of the profession, along with siloed working and fear of calling out harassment or of speaking up more generally.

Overall, one in three engineers (35 per cent) surveyed said they had experienced bullying and harassment, but this figure increases to 70 per cent for those who identify as LGBTQ+ and Black, Asian or minority ethnic, or those who are Black, Asian or minority ethnic and have a disability.

Louise Parry, Director of People and Organisational Development at Energy and Utility Skills and Chair of the Inclusive Cultures Advisory Group at RAEng, commented:

“It is great that three quarters of the engineers we spoke to feel that the culture of engineering has improved in the past 5 years. However, it is clear we have a long way to go. It is unacceptable that there is anyone working in our profession who feels unable to bring their authentic self to work. People need to be able to fully bring to bear their individual skills and perspectives to help tackle our many engineering challenges.”

Inclusive working environments in engineering have been proven to achieve results in areas such as supporting creativity, collaboration and cooperation, and developing innovative solutions to problems.

The report makes a series of recommendations for employers under four themes:

  • Improving inclusive culture: Providing guidance on inclusive behaviours, empowering engineers to speak out and creating budgets for D&I (diversity and inclusion) activities
  • Nurturing belonging: Embracing different attitudes, working styles and ways of communicating to enable underrepresented groups to feel a sense of safety and belonging
  • Tackling bullying, harassment and discrimination: Developing a safe reporting system for people to raise concerns, including clearer guidance to support the reporting of ‘microaggressions’
  • Improving retention and success: Setting up sponsorship and/or mentoring schemes and investing in line managers’ cultural competence through inclusion training.

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