Diversity and inclusion have become pressing issues in all industries, but especially in the engineering and tech sectors. As products and services become more complex and integrated into all areas of our lives, having diverse teams to build them is critical. Homogenous teams often lack the range of perspectives and experiences needed to create solutions that work well for diverse users. Building truly inclusive engineering teams requires looking at how we recruit, retain, and support underrepresented groups. It means fostering a workplace culture of belonging where all team members’ voices are heard and their contributions valued. While there is still much work to be done, many engineering leaders are making inclusivity a priority because they recognize the competitive advantage diverse teams bring in building innovative products that meet the needs of our diverse world.
Why Diversity Matters in Engineering
Engineering solutions shape how we live and interact with the world around us. From transportation systems to medical devices to consumer electronics, engineers are designing the products and infrastructure modern life depends on. To create engineered systems that work well for all people, the engineering workforce itself needs to reflect diverse users’ backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Homogenous teams are limited in their ability to anticipate the needs of populations different from their own. This can lead to excluding underrepresented groups or even unintentionally building in biases that put them at a disadvantage. Diverse teams are better positioned to notice these pitfalls and develop creative solutions that level the playing field. They bring a richness of insight into diverse users’ values and ways of interacting with engineered systems. This diversity of perspective is crucial for innovation and building systems equitably.
Challenges Facing Diversity in Engineering
While the engineering field recognizes the importance of diversity, it continues to lag in building inclusive teams and workplaces. Some key factors behind this include:
Lack of exposure to engineering for women and underrepresented minorities at a young age due to societal ideas about who can become an engineer. This limits the pipeline of diverse talent pursuing engineering degrees.
Biased recruitment and hiring processes that rely too heavily on traditional indicators like GPA over skills assessments and interviews. Underrepresented groups often face barriers in college admissions and academic achievement leading to lower scores on paper.
Workplace cultures that inadvertently alienate diverse team members through lack of mentorship, stereotyping, and isolation. Microaggressions and feeling unable to express viewpoints inhibits retention.
Lack of diversity at leadership levels to advocate for inclusive policies and practices. Homogenous leadership tends to perpetuate status quo exclusionary cultures.
These systemic issues combine to make engineering one of the least diverse STEM fields. But many companies are now prioritizing building inclusive cultures from the ground up to tap into the wellspring of innovation diverse teams bring.
The Pillars of Inclusive Engineering
To truly champion inclusivity in engineering, organizations must focus on three primary pillars:
Representation: It’s imperative to ensure that all demographic groups, be it gender, race, age, disability, or any other factor, are adequately represented at all levels – from entry-level positions to leadership roles.
Education and Training: Teams should be equipped with the knowledge and tools to understand and appreciate diverse perspectives. This could be in the form of workshops, sensitivity training, or even team-building exercises that highlight the value of diverse teams.
Feedback and Iteration: Building an inclusive environment is an ongoing process. Regular feedback from team members can shed light on areas of improvement, and iteration ensures that the organization continues to move in the right direction.
Tangible Benefits of Inclusive Engineering
Beyond the moral imperative, the advantages of fostering inclusivity in engineering are tangible:
Enhanced Creativity: Diverse teams bring multiple viewpoints, leading to novel solutions that might not be evident in homogeneous groups.
Wider User Appeal: Solutions designed by diverse teams have a broader appeal, catering to a wider audience and ensuring that products and solutions resonate with different demographics.
Better Decision Making: Diverse teams often engage in more rigorous debate, which can lead to better-informed decisions.
Higher Retention Rates: Inclusive environments tend to foster loyalty, leading to reduced turnover and associated costs.
Best Practices for Cultivating Inclusion
To tap into the competitive edge diverse teams bring, engineering leaders need to take an intentional approach to building inclusion. Some best practices include:
Broadening recruitment efforts beyond traditional pipelines like Ivy League schools to reach talent at minority-serving institutions. This expands the pool of qualified, diverse candidates.
Ensuring hiring practices are objective and skills-focused by using structured interviews, skills assessments, and inclusive job descriptions. This helps remove unconscious bias from hiring decisions.
Promoting mentorship and sponsorship programs to support retention and advancement of diverse team members. A sense of belonging and seeing pathways for growth are key to retention.
Providing unconscious bias and diversity training to raise awareness of exclusionary behaviors. Fostering understanding creates more empathetic, inclusive cultures.
Supporting employee resource groups and diversity initiatives employees are passionate about. This empowers and engages diverse team members.
Setting and tracking inclusion goals to measure progress. What gets measured gets managed – analytics enable accountability.
The Path Forward
Cultivating inclusive engineering teams takes ongoing commitment, self-reflection, and willingness to improve. While pockets of diversity and inclusion exist, there are still gaps across the industry in living up to the rhetoric supporting diversity. However, an increasing number of engineering leaders view this as a business imperative, not just a moral cause.
They recognize diverse teams build better products for diverse users. A focus on inclusion ultimately benefits their customers and their bottom line. Other leaders need to follow suit. An engineering workforce reflecting diverse experiences and perspectives strengthens innovation and builds equitable products that elevate everyone.