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Pull up a chair – there’s room for everyone at the table of equality, diversity, and inclusion

Category: future leaders, female leaders, early careers, Leadership, unconscious bias, Gender Balance, Siemens, gender bias, women in engineering, leaders, gender and equality, gender agenda

Gender Focus

Equality. Diversity. Inclusion. Three simple words with a lot of meaning. Three powerful words that thousands of people are affected by every day in education, in the workplace, in social interactions, in their career progression.

Here’s my story. I’m in a minority of young chartered female engineers in an industry

that’s heavily male dominated. Despite my qualifications and 17 years’ experience in industry, I know that on occasion, I’m judged on my gender, my age and all the stereotypes that go along with them. If I am going to be judged I’d quite like it to be on my credentials, thanks!

We need more progress to get to a point where people experience success based on their merits and are not limited by other people’s unconscious (or conscious) bias about their race, gender, sexual orientation, social background, or disabilities.

The conversation starter

I was talking to Professor Amanda Broderick, Vice Chancellor at University of East London a few months ago about the principle that everyone has something to bring to the table, but not everyone gets a seat. With both of us having an interest in the subject, we decided to expand the discussion by bringing together award-winning education partner insights from UEL and great advancements from Siemens to talk about achievements that have been made in embedding the values of Equality, Diversity, Inclusion (EDI) and the work we still need to do.

But then the world got angry. We were all shocked and appalled at the horrific way George Floyd’s life was taken by a police officer in Minnesota, USA. It was an event that caused global outrage about the blatant injustices in the world and triggered the huge resurgence of the anti-racist movement, Black Lives Matter, that started in 2013 following the death of Trayvon Martin.

It became clear to me that good intentions aren’t good enough. Good intentions plus action is what’s needed to tackle the inequalities that still exist in academia, in industry, in all walks of life.

That’s where our conversation started.

A meeting of minds

I was interested in exploring how we develop a more diverse, inclusive and equal workplace and, to me, bringing together experiences from academia and industry was the place to start. Professor Amanda Broderick, Vice Chancellor at UEL, Professor Marcia Wilson, Dean of Office of Institutional Equity at UEL, and Angela Noon joined me on a webinar to share experiences and wins.

What was interesting is that each of these professional women had their own personal experience of discrimination. Amanda Broderick was the first child in the village she grew up in who had a full-time, professional working mother who also happened to be brown. She was acutely aware of her difference from an early age when she was judged negatively on her background but became inspired to change how people are treated.

Marcia Wilson grew up in east London in the 1970s and 80s where prominent far-right groups created a climate of fear for black and brown residents. She remembers walking to and from school with two white friends down an alleyway covered in racist graffiti and symbols and noticing that her friends were oblivious to it because it wasn’t directed at them. It created a feeling of shame that she didn’t belong.

Growing up in a very deprived area of Glasgow and in care for some of her childhood, Angela Noon experienced social discrimination in early life. She recalls early experiences with teachers and career advisors where she was clearly placed in a category of achieving ‘no meaningful employment’. People were quick to make assumptions she wasn’t going to go on to higher education and a successful career.

What struck me by these stories is how some people can be deeply affected by their environment but others who are close to them can be completely blind to it because they don’t share the same experience.

When we lay it out like that it seems we’re not getting anywhere in creating positive change, but I know that’s absolutely not the case!

Where are the wins?

UEL was recently recognised in the Times Higher Education Global Impact Rankings as 2nd in the world in reducing inequality. That’s an incredible testament to the commitment and dedication they have to change. They’ve achieved that status by having a clear and shared vision of what diversity, equality, and inclusion are, coupled with a strong plan of action…and acting on it.

It’s that effort that has earned them:

  • A Race Equality Charter Mark Award (one of only 15 institutions to hold one)
  • Top ranking in the UK by Times Higher Education for reducing inequalities

Amazing! But what of industry?

I’m proud to work for a company that has such a rich history of engineering, and even more proud of the work we’ve been doing around EDI. We’ve taken a focused approach on encouraging women into engineering and women into leadership; two areas where women are still vastly underrepresented.

To inspire young girls, we created an event in collaboration with the Girls’ Schools Association called ‘See Me’. It was designed to show girls what they can achieve from science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects, and how important it is to seek out strong role models in those areas. The reaction we got from the students was inspiring and hopefully we’ll see some of the girls coming through as engineers in the not-too-distant future.

Our graduate recruitment programme this year saw an increase of female graduates to 38% from last year’s figure of 26%. A great result which came about from focusing on the selection process. One thing that was really interesting was that we asked all candidates to make a video to promote themselves and explain why they want to work at Siemens. At this point we found that young women had a crisis of confidence and became apprehensive about recording a video, whereas the men were happy with it. It just shows that young women need more encouragement to achieve their potential. What we’re doing is working and the effort is paying off: in a survey by Universum, Siemens – as an ideal employer for female engineers – went from 20th in 2019, to 5th this year. An incredible improvement!

Creating great leaders

Strong leadership is also essential to embedding EDI values across Siemens; it’s that tone from the top that influences an entire workforce. We are working towards ensuring there is diversity through recruitment so there is a varied pipeline of people coming into the business, but that message has to come from the business leaders. That’s why we developed ‘Picture of a Leader’ where we examine the qualities and characteristics we expect from our leaders. If someone is placed in a leadership position who carries unconscious bias, that’s going to filter through the team and out into selection criteria, so developing our leaders is vital to creating equality.

There is strength in a diverse workforce because everyone has something different to bring to the table.

What will be different 5 years from now?

This was an interesting question I asked the panel on the webinar: if we project ourselves 5 years into the future what would you like to see that’s different? What will progress look like?

For Marcia Wilson, she would like to see the impact certainly in less than 5 years knowing that the world-wide protests are showing we want an end to injustice. So that the seeds we’re planting today in terms of EDI come to fruition “I would like a more equal world in education, in the workplace, in health, in housing.”

Amanda Broderick’s vision was of a more systematic and positive partnerships between employers and the diverse range of universities we have in the UK to see the skills gap closing because there’s  increased diversity in the talent pipeline.

I thought Angela Noon’s response was great. She said that she would like these conversations about equality, diversity, and inclusion to be obsolete in five years’ time, because that would mean progress HAS been achieved. In the meantime, values in society need to change and open discussion and action has to continue.

What happened next?

After the webinar I felt really motivated to make sure the conversation didn’t end there. At Siemens, we’ve listened carefully to how UEL has made progress for race equality and we are following their lead on how to do this.  Our race network is in the process of forming, developing its vision and purpose and we plan to give clarity to our commitments for race equality during Black History Month this year.  We’ve also listened to their thoughts around social mobility and the role that both universities and business can play in creating more opportunities. Another clear parallel is around leadership; speaking to other leaders in a different sector but that may be working towards a common vision is inspiring for me and helps to escalate progress on both sides.  I’m really looking forward to continuing the collaboration with UEL and the wider network.

The final word

I’ll leave you with a thought from George the Poet, a spoken-word artist from London, who said: “We all get taught things every day, but it’s really up to you what you learn.”

The lesson here is that we need to keep learning, keep the conversation going, and take positive action.

By Faye Bowser.

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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email info@vercida.com for more information.

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