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Insights How can we encourage diversity and inclusion in civil engineering?

The Hoover Dam, Golden Gate Bridge and English Channel Tunnel are just a few examples of the most impressive feats in the history of civil engineering. These projects were only possible because of the collective work of many great minds and the unique problem-solving approaches brought by every individual involved. If teams aren’t diverse, but are comprised of individuals who all think in the same way, ground-breaking projects are far less likely to arise. So, how can we actively encourage diversity and inclusion (D&I) in civil engineering?

Creating opportunities for people with a disability

For a profession that impacts our daily lives in such an enormous way – being responsible for our road and bridge networks, flood defences and water systems, and airports and tunnels – too little is said about D&I in the civil engineering workforce.

To begin creating opportunities for people with a disability, first civil engineering companies must understand how different disabilities affect people, how some are less visible than others and what unique skills each person can bring to a company. As Jane Hatton – director of Evenbreak – puts it “Disabled people tend to have developed skills to navigate around an inaccessible world, including resilience, creativity, determination, innovation, problem-solving, persistence and so on.”

Becoming a Disability Confident Committed employer is a good initial step but for the industry to encourage disability D&I there’s more work to done, such as making the workplace more disabled-friendly and offering flexible working options.

cranes and scaffolding with the sun setting behind

Supporting LGBT+ diversity and inclusion

A survey of 78 higher-education institutes found a 71.1% retention rate for heterosexual STEM students compared to 63.8% for LGBT students. Despite this, a larger proportion of the LGBT students were involved in undergraduate research, which tends to be seen in groups with a higher retention rate. This suggests that the engagement of LGBT students in their studies is not the issue.

The survey shows that male LGBT students were less likely to continue their STEM course than heterosexual male students, yet female LGBT students were more likely than their heterosexual counterparts. Institutes such as The Royal Academy of Engineering have introduced D&I initiatives to remove the stereotype that engineering is a masculine career where professionals wear hard hats and aprons, however more work needs to be done. Civil engineering companies must collaborate with organisations like InterEngineering who are championing the inclusion of LGBT people within the engineering industry.

Find out how we’re raising LGBT+ visibility and allies at Atkins.

Gender diversity and inclusion

In the US, women comprise 14% of the engineering workforce and while this is an improvement from the 5.8% in 1980, this doesn’t reflect the progress that’s been made in terms of gender inequality over the last 40 years. This is not because of the industry’s lack of effort to encourage females to study STEM and consider a career in civil engineering, but partly because there are too few role models for women.

A 2019 mentor-mentee relationship study found that engineering was ranked 6th in terms of professions where mentorship is most popular. Females in this industry particularly need a coach to help them progress in the industry, which will in turn improve retention rates and create more female role models for future generations.

There are few more inspiring role models than Divya Deepankar – a civil engineer at Atkins – who has been working towards embedding sustainability in infrastructure design and leading some very exciting projects. She was captivated by the idea of saving the plant when she played the role of an activist in a school play and, like many young girls and women, pursued a career in sustainability to make a difference. The ‘eco gender gap’ - or the notion that women have greater involvement in environmental issues - indicates that promoting this sustainable avenue within civil engineering will help to encourage gender D&I.

A culturally diverse workforce

In the wider UK engineering sector, 9% of employees are BAME – Black, Asian and minority ethnic – compared to 12% of the overall workforce. These figures may come as less of a surprise when you consider that 51% of 9- to 16-year-olds imagine that a ‘typical engineer’ is white.

One answer to creating a more ethnically and culturally diverse and inclusive civil engineering workforce is clear: we need to tackle the preconceptions that children have. Challenging this view of an engineer as a white, middle-aged male will encourage young people from underrepresented cultures and religions to envision themselves in this role. It’s equally important to share stories of those they can relate to and who are succeeding in the role, like Dudley Gunatunga – a civil engineer at Atkins who starts off his morning by saying a prayer to his God to keep him safe before he sets off for work.

Your civil engineering career with Atkins

With vacancies across Europe, Canada, America and Asia the opportunities for your civil engineering career at Atkins are endless. Our career programs are designed to put you in the driving seat, meaning that you have the choice of where you want to go and how you get there. Our current roles span transportation, cities and development, water and more markets - browse civil engineering jobs to find the opportunity that’s suited to you.