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Letters: ‘People perform better when they can be themselves’

It is great to see NCE’s drive for diversity growing ever diverse (NCE 27 August-3 September). I was not surprised however that the first response I read, on Twitter, was that “sexuality has nothing to do with engineering”. Of course in simple terms that is correct; my love of Lego and problem solving developed long before understanding of sexual orientation, but that misses the point.

My experience, in civil and military engineering, on site and in consultancy, in the UK and abroad, suggests four broad cases for diversity of all kinds.

The first two, being the legal and moral cases, are rather matter of fact. In the UK at least, all employers have a legal duty to enable fair access to our profession. However, everywhere, supporting all who have the potential to succeed as an engineer is, well, just the right thing to do. Moving on.

Gay pride march

Relaxed: LGBT should not feel they have to ‘self edit’ at work

The third case is also about enabling potential; essential for sustainability of the profession. Half the pool of potential future engineers is female. In other areas, such as religion and race, national demographics are diversifying. Recent YouGov polling suggested that 49% of 18 to 24 year olds described themselves as other than 100% heterosexual. Now, without getting into debate about the figures, there are many. And I wonder if you were in that group, would you want to work hard to enter a profession that doesn’t appear to welcome you? We talk a lot about encouraging young people into science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but if our institutions visibly champion diversity, we may spark interest in the many young people who could be competent engineers, but just don’t currently like what they see.

However, the most important case for the profession embracing diversity is performance. Ultimately engineering is a team activity and teams benefit from diversity and inclusion. It is widely accepted in other industries that diverse teams perform better than equally well led homogeneous teams.

However the opportunities afforded by diverse teams are squandered without inclusion. People perform better when they can be themselves.

It is illogical to think there are many businesses in the industry without LGBT staff. As I say, my love of Lego influenced my career choices long before I was considering what careers suited my sexual orientation. So if LGBT colleagues, who are undoubtedly there, feel the need to self-edit; to not put a picture of their partner on their desk or locker, in case it raises eyebrows; to not talk about who they shared their weekends or holidays with on a Monday morning for fear of accusation of “going on about it”; to be constantly careful about pronouns; then they will not perform as well as they could.

Good leaders should want to understand their teams, to get the most from them. Inclusion takes effort, but who knows, you might find you’ve a really interesting team.

My sexual orientation does not, directly, influence my engineering competency, but the ability to be myself at work does. That means being allowed to be authentic with my colleagues and having them be comfortable with that. Let us not, as a profession, react defensively to the drive for diversity. Let us realise the cases for it, legal, moral, future sustainability or performance. Otherwise, we’ll continue missing opportunities. Let us identify our strengths and our weaknesses and implement change. Our teams will be the better for it.

  • Rob Ridley (M) Twitter @riddersr

As a lesbian, post-op, trans-woman working for a large international consultancy I have experienced zero issues regarding my sexuality.

Pre-transition in 2012 I have to admit that the thought of transitioning at work petrified me, but in the event, it was, well a bit of a non-event, with only fantastic support voiced towards me.

The company’s HR department had no prior experience, but did a fantastic job of managing the process and as a whole the firm could not have gone any further in supporting me. It certainly has been no barrier to my career having received several promotions since then.

My thoughts on sexuality based diversity in the work place are that it’s largely irrelevant, I make no attempts to hide my sexuality, but equally I don’t go around introducing myself as a lesbian engineer because it really doesn’t matter in a work environment whether I’m straight, gay, bi-sexual, pan-sexual, asexual, or any other variety you can think of as long as I can do my job.

My gender history is also irrelevant in the work place and to colleagues as it is nobody’s business but my own, for that reason I ask that this letter is published anonymously as I am not so open about that aspect of my past life, in work or out of it.

A quote from a “respondent” perhaps highlights the lack of understanding that still remains in society as a whole about LGBT issues, “…where it is illegal to have this lifestyle.”

Being Gay or Trans is no more a ‘lifestyle’ or choice then being male, female or heterosexual. There’s no choice involved, it’s just the way you are.

  • Name and address witheld

I read with interest and a growing feeling of surprise and some annoyance the article on equality. My main concern was the statement that “homophobia was a generational problem with older engineers who grew up during more conservative times being more prone to making offensive comments”. I would probably agree that the generation older than mine may well have been less enlightened. However, I am 64 years old, thus I assume that I am now categorised as ‘the older generation’ and I would argue that we are a tolerant generation that probably did more for equality than most.

Believing that my generation are the basis of the problem is naive as homophobia will continue after my generation has long gone. Clearly there are individuals from all generations that are homophobic and they should be bought to task, but to suggest that a generation is to blame is down-right insulting if not ageist.

  • Steve Rogers (M),

I am dismayed about those gay engineers who “feel comfortable being open about their sexual orientation…when at client meetings…” Surely a professional is one who deals with matters of relevant business, not discussing or advertising personal issues. Let the Institution promote the word “professional” in this respect and keep personal matters out of it.

  • John Riddle (M)

Am I alone in finding that the NCE pursuit of equality and homophobia is getting boring. If you go looking for trouble you will surely find it. Personally, when on site I do not remember any of the hatred, bigotry and fear referred to - or is the modern site worker going around announcing his or her orientation in the hope of being offended? I think not, but if they do they will invite the odd sally and should not be surprised. Sad. I suspect most readers would prefer to hear about another interesting project.

  • Richard Orange-Bromehead.(M retd)

Getting East West Rail right

Your report on East West Rail (NCE 27 August-3 September) states that train services between Bedford and Bicester continue to run. No they do not. If they did, then there would be no need for East West Rail. To enable the new train services to operate we have to re-open the mothballed section between Calvert and Bletchley, a section of track midway between Bedford and Bicester! Later in your report you actually refer to a ‘mothballed’ section of track between Bicester and Bletchley whereas the track east of Bicester to Calvert is still open to freight. Your reporter seems to have got himself derailed.

  • Patrick O’Sullivan (M)

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