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Viewpoint: Equal rights

Glen Owen

Are we fair, inclusive and respectful?

I was in Manchester recently with the Graduates and Students Network (GSNet) at their annual conference. It was a thought provoking two days with discussions on a whole spectrum of important topics. One that really caught my attention was that of equality and diversity.

The ICE values the diversity that individuals with differing backgrounds and abilities bring to the Institution, and is committed to respecting all members and applicants through fairness, tolerance and consistency of professional standards. The ICE therefore ensures that professional qualification and membership is open to all who meet its standards.

You are no doubt aware that the Equality Act came into force in October 2010, providing a single legal framework with clear, streamlined law to more effectively tackle disadvantage and discrimination. It’s worth reading the Act and the accompanying codes of practice on equal pay and employments.

That said, the issue isn’t just about complying with the law - I’d like to think we work in an industry that is committed to fairness, inclusion and respect, valuing everyone for their contribution to solving some of the biggest challenges to humankind.

Before we pat ourselves on our respective backs in the sure knowledge that we’re doing all we can to deliver equality of opportunity to all, perhaps we should ask a few questions.

For example - is it fair that the gender pay gap still exists in Britain despite decades of equal opportunity legislation? Do we provide unfettered access to employment for all? Are we respectful of different forms of religious observance that many individuals need to make? Before considering your answers to these questions there’s one further insight I’d like to share from the GSNet conference.

Before we met, we were asked to complete an online survey that explored our attitudes to work. One question asked about the challenging aspects of being/working with women in engineering.

The aspects that the women who were surveyed highlighted are probably no surprise, men also came up with some classic answers, but interestingly - by far the most popular answer given by men was that there were no challenging aspects to working with women at all.

Now this could be true, but if this were really the case then many more women who took the survey would have made similar observations (they didn’t) and much of the measurable discrimination in our industry wouldn’t exist - we’d have equal pay, gender balanced board rooms and an ICE membership that reflects wider UK society in terms of male and female split, and ethical and cultural mix.

The fact that it doesn’t suggests that maybe there was a degree of unconscious bias among the survey group and perhaps this reflects a similar trait throughout our industry.

So can we all step up to the ICE’s commitment to be fair and inclusive while recognising that this isn’t easy and that openness and tolerance only come from accepting that we’re not always aware of our own prejudices?
Surely fairness, inclusion and respect are the right attitudes for all of us.

  • Glen Owen is ICE East of England regional director

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