Able Magazine caught up with ‘Be the Difference’ Employer, Dr Mark McBride-Wright CEng MIChemE founder of EqualEngineers to discuss inclusivity within the engineering sector, recruitment fairs on offer and the progression of diversity within engineering and technology.

Can you tell us a little bit about EqualEngineers and how you’re making the engineering and technology sector more inclusive? 

Mark: “So I’m a chartered gay engineer.  I set up an organisation called InterEngineering for LGBT engineer’s four years ago, and we’ve got over 1000 members now. It’s a sector-specific organisation that represents one under-represented group, sexual orientation and gender identity, and because of the success of that organisation, companies would approach me and ask if they could recruit our LGBT engineers.

I saw an opportunity to step up a level in engineering and tech and broaden out in diversity focus and create something that would apply equally to each under-represented group, to broaden and focus on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, deal with diversity and social mobility.

With regards to disability, I want to cast more of a light because there isn’t an organisation that represents the disabled community within engineering and tech, to my knowledge. We have the Women’s Engineering Society for gender, there are groups that represent black and minority ethnic. I have InterEngineering for sexual orientation, but there’s nothing that really illuminates the disabled community within engineering.

I must admit because I’m identified able-bodied myself, I’m on a journey with regards to how best support the disability community within engineering and tech. I did an event for black history month last year and it’s the first time I’m stepping outside my comfort zone from talking about sexual orientation or gender identity because they are things that I can identify with. I was in a room with 30 black people and 3 white people and I just made a joke saying, “Look, I feel like the way straight people feel when they come to an InterEngineering event.” It was the exact same feeling for disability and I am learning so much as I go.

Now because I run careers fairs that are targeted at under-represented groups, what I’ve noticed, we do attract the intended audience. So we did see quite a lot of people at my careers fair that identified with having a disability, come into the venues to find out from employers about career opportunities.

One lovely example was we had a group of six deaf apprenticeship seekers come along to our Birmingham Fair. They had five British Sign Language and DSL interpreters with them. It was amazing to watch them, walk around with their interpreters talking to the recruiters. And it’s that experiential learning point for the recruiters. You could tell that they were awkward, they’d never been in that situation before because they were thrown into the deep end and they were, interacting with someone via an interpreter, learning all the little best ways to do it, how to make the person feel included.

It was that learning on the job moment that they get from that. I like to think that that’s what EqualEngineers will offer. It’s that behavioural change that the industry needs for people to feel more comfortable at recruiting people that are different from themselves, but also give confidence to disabled job seekers to disclose it at the point of application to ask the questions, but really to be proud about having a disability and not shying away from it.

Another example, was one of the parents had a son with Asperger’s Syndrome. She was great at emailing me, asking for advice, talking about a particular company, and feeding back the experiences of her son coming to the careers fair, the fact that organisation couldn’t answer any of the questions around reasonable adjustments in the process of applying. I then fed that back to the company in question and they’ve then now for the next batch of events trained everyone that will be present at any event nationally on what they do, made materials that are more visible around how to request reasonable adjustments and the fact that they welcome people from the disabled backgrounds.

So I like to think that just by sharing that feedback that I received as an intermediary back to the client, it is driving positive behaviours. There is an entire field of work that needs to be done.

One of the initiatives that I’ve got on the back burner that’s waiting to be to be activated is ‘What’s it Like?’ campaign, effectively showcasing and profiling disabled engineers. It works by myself putting a call out on LinkedIn to ask my connections if anyone would feel comfortable coming forward and talking openly about this. I’ve had about 10 people reply back to me in total. It was amazing even in that group the people that weren’t out effectively about their disability and didn’t want to disclose it amongst their colleagues. If they did contribute, they’d want to contribute in an anonymous capacity with a voiceover. So it just shows you how much stigma still exists around this perception that it’s going to hold you back.

I am so open to feedback and direction and guidance on what it is that needs to be done and I would really welcome members of Able magazine to get in touch to say what it is that needs to change within the industry because what I do effectively is a glue. I bind people together. I’ve got a very large extensive network. I sit on the steering committee for the Royal Academy of Engineering Diversity Group. I’m very well connected and what EqualEngineers wants to do is drive action by stealth.”

So how do you connect your inclusive employers with motivated talent from diverse backgrounds within the engineering sector? Is that exclusively through the events or is that also through other services you provide as well?

“So up until now, it has primarily been through the events. The business is a year old and we’ve run six events so far, but the plan is very much to expand. We’re relaunching a job board later on this month and at the registration of the employers, I ask the question explicitly, are you a Disabled Confident Employer? I also ask diversity questions at the point of sign up, so EqualEngineers can report at an aggregate level the number of people that we have in our community that are job seeking. It’s my full intention that when the job board relaunches, we have as many people on there as possible with technology that makes it more accessible to everyone.

My business centres around the careers fairs, but I also do training and consulting for organisations. I’m a chartered chemical engineer with a specialisation in technical safety. There are so many analogies within engineering to link in a positive safety culture. If you’re not aware engineering is high risk. So there are big pushes to call out unsafe acts when you see them because the idea being that if there’s something unsafe happening that could become a near miss or even lead to a fatality.

There are so many cross-linkages between a positive safety culture and a positively inclusive culture. I feel that we need to link diversity and inclusion to focus on health, safety and wellbeing. So many people are there that are suffering in silence because they’re not open about an aspect of their identity, whether that be their sexual orientation, a disability, financial planning pressures, they’re going through a divorce, whatever, we need to help people find their voice in the diversity conversation and then I believe we’ll create more active listeners and supporters.”

So I understand, you’re hosting the career fairs in five regions across the UK, so what will be available to employees attending the fairs and will they get the chance to speak to a range of inclusive employers there?

“Yeah, absolutely! So the career fair tour takes place in Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, and London. I was elected to choose accessible venues and even where there are some facilities that aren’t as accessible as they should be, I’m working with the venue to make the experience as accessible as possible for my candidates coming along.

So what candidates can expect on the day is four to five hours per event with exhibitors being able to talk about opportunities in engineering and technology. The fairs are for engineering or technology students who are looking for a graduate role. If you’re an apprenticeship seeker people from any background can come along and find out about apprenticeship opportunities. There’s also internships and placements available.

We’ve got a really broad range of clients across the events such as Heathrow Airport at our London event, we’ve got Google, Eurostar and smaller organisations that people may not have heard of such as Metaswitch. We’ve got a lot of defence organisations at our South-West event because there’s a large defence contingent there. There will also be Boeing, the airplane manufacturer, and the Environment Agency. We’ve got a real mixture of companies that want to do something. No organisation is perfect, there are elements to improve, but that’s the whole point of these events. My candidates and people that come along can feedback if there’s any experience that’s not as inclusive as it could be. And then that’s how together we can learn through brokering that knowledge exchange between that frank constructive feedback and helping the ongoing employment process.”

Do you personally feel that inclusion for disabled people within the tech and engineering sectors is moving forward and if so, what do you feel needs to progress further?

“I feel like given that technology defines our future or it’s where we’re heading as a society, the large tech companies are trying to make the everyday lives of people, in general, more accessible through using technology with assisted learning, making society more accessible. It’s vital we get diversity into the tech profession so that there’s that diversity of thought and experience on those design teams, building these software products and programming artificial intelligence.

I think when you consider the engineering sector and engineering it’s very broad, it can mean anything from working on a ship to working offshore, working on a manufacturing site to working in an office in a nice location in the centre of a city, or even working in a local council office in our planning department. There are so many things that engineers do. When you take engineering, you need to break it down into working onsite and working off-site and there should be no barriers to any background doing any job, but there will be clearly things that needs more support in order for the individual to do the job, working on site for example.

It’s a case of looking at the job design and thinking about how the jobs and tasks in the role can be delivered by people from any background. Looking to see what support would be necessary to support those individuals. Are more supervision arrangements required? By doing things this way you can look at the job design and the needs of the individual and marry them up.”

So, I understand that EqualEngineers is looking to increase social mobility within the engineering and technology professions and so what steps do you have in place to ensure people with disabilities are represented in the engineering and technology sector?

“So one of the things that I’ve been doing as part of my outreach strategy is linking in with the Department for Work and Pensions. What you tend to find is that people from minority groups are disproportionately represented because they’ve not been able to get jobs. So my hope is that we’ll get more representation at our events from people with disabilities and also from a low socio-economic background.”

I understand from the website that you offer different services within consultancy, training and speaking and I just wonder whether you could just tell us a little bit more about the services offered and how they can help workplaces become more inclusive?

“So in terms of what I offer, I do training and consulting. The strategy of my consulting is very much linking diversity and inclusion to health and wellbeing and evaluating what the company does already and trying to see what they need to do to adjust in order for them to be more proactive and more inclusive, as opposed to creating a whole new raft of things that then have to be add-ons to people’s day jobs because very often diversity and inclusion is delivered in addition to.

It’s about looking at what’s already being done and what we need to adjust to make it more inclusive. I find a lot of my time is spent giving not just the business case for diversity inclusion, but the personal case for it. So, I find through emotive education and experiential learning, by making the person walk in the shoes of Person X to really think about the challenges and difficulties they may face, to gain a differing perspective.

I find that by making people, even just through either watching a video or through a classroom-based exercise where they have put their mind in the shoes of that person from that background, it then starts to stick better. And so, then you create empathy within your workers. What I try to do is create purpose-driven workers. So if people find their passion, they will go over and above to do whatever they need to do to get the job done. That’s what we need to find in everyone and you’re more likely to find that in people if they’re not held up worrying about disclosing their disability or coming out at work or having to go home to feed, to pick up the kids at four and stressing about leaving a meeting early.

I want more role models to come forward and be confident to speak out and then we can really start inverting the conversation.”

To find out more about upcoming EqualEngineering fairs please click here:

Engineering and Technology Careers Fairs 2018

Are you deciding what to do after school or college? Have you considered a career in Engineering or Technology? Registration is now open for our 2018 apprenticeship fairs. Meet employers, and get on the career ladder.

Posted by EqualEngineers on Wednesday, 6 December 2017