Diversity and Inclusion Implementation Steering Group

D&I Implementation Group statement

Engineering and science professional bodies come together to improve diversity and inclusion (D&I)

Following the release of the report ‘Creating a culture where all engineers thrive by the Royal Academy of Engineering earlier this year, and the launch of a benchmarking tool for engineering and science professional bodies, a group of professionals has come together to ensure that lessons from the report are implemented.

Twenty professional engineering institutions (PEIs) and 21 scientific bodies have already self-assessed their performance in eight areas of professional body activity: governance and leadership; membership and professional registration; meetings, conferences and events; education and training, accreditation and examinations; prizes, awards and grants; communications, marketing, outreach and engagement; employment; and monitoring and measuring.

The benchmarking exercise, which used a specially-created D&I Progression Framework, was led by a collaboration between the Academy and the Science Council. The two bodies have brought together their respective engineering and scientific professional bodies in a steering group to address findings and recommendations from the report.

The Steering Group, chaired by Rosemary Cook, CEO of the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine, met first in May 2018, and has mapped the recommendations of the report into a matrix which identifies key issues, and potential practical actions that can help to deliver change. Four subgroups are considering these in more depth over the Summer, focusing on communications and language; developing better measures; extending use of the framework; and sharing of resources.

The Steering Group has set ambitious aims:

  • to raise the percentage of PEIs/Science bodies using the EDI Progression Framework from 50% to 75% of organisations; and
  • to demonstrate positive change in EDI activities in PEIs/Science bodies through new measures, and share these on a common dashboard.

Group of men and womenIs there gender equality in biomedical science laboratories?

The Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) recently asked its members to discuss gender equality in the workplace. Three members from across the UK shared their experiences.

Joanne Motte, Advanced Practitioner in Histological Dissection, Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Absolutely, I think that gender equality is well represented within biomedical science. Currently, this is a predominantly “female profession” – females represent 65% of biomedical scientists. My laboratory alone demonstrates this with a ratio of three females to every one male scientist. With Agenda for Change, a drive towards flexible working hours and shared parental leave, more women are finding successful employment in laboratories. I believe it is a profession where career advancement is now based on experience and attaining further qualifications, rather than gender.

What must also be considered, however, are the historic setbacks relating to maternity leave and changing working patterns, with many women opting to return to work part-time in order to achieve a work-family balance. This may be reflected in the data showing that three-quarters of IBMS students, associates, licentiates and members are women, but the figure drops quite significantly to 56% at fellow level. The global movement for gender equality has not incorporated the proposition of genders besides women and men, or gender identities outside of the gender binary. I would like to think our profession is open to all genders and gender designations. This is an exciting time and I am looking forward to seeing how we continue to equally shape our workforce and profession.

Colin Mudd, Higher Specialist Biomedical Scientist, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust

My experience is yes. Of course, there are still areas for improvement and there will probably always be cases of discrimination whilst we have human beings in our laboratories. That, of course, is not to justify or understand it. Perhaps only artificial intelligence will eradicate it completely.

Nearly 42 years ago when I began my career, things were somewhat different. Attitudes thankfully have changed considerably since then. In the 70s and 80s, there were lots of women in working in laboratories but very few were in senior management positions. I carry out many registration and specialist portfolio verifications around the country and the story today seems quite different. Anecdotally, I see as many women as men in senior managerial positions. My observation also is that women seem to dominate the role of Training Officer/Manager.

The diversity we find in biomedical scientists today is refreshing to see. Having been given over 150 lab tours during my visits to many hospitals, I see so many diverse people, and feel honoured to work in such an environment. With gender fluidity and non-binary issues at the core of the gender debate these days I do wonder, however, how accepting we all actually are of such differences. Perhaps the answer lies in the hands of the younger generation of biomedical scientists, who tend to be more accepting, more questioning than perhaps those of us of an older generation.

Sheelagh Heugh, Head of Student Experience and Academic Outcomes, School of Human Sciences, London Metropolitan University

There is still a gender equality gap amongst the biomedical scientists. There are more women biomedical scientists, but there is a predominance of males in higher grades, and where women are in the higher grades, they are paid less than their counterparts. Historically, differences were attributed to the flexibility biomedical scientist work gave working mothers, but the change in lab shift patterns has resulted in more parity of hours worked. The number of women in science has increased, but there still remains a predominance of males in higher positions with higher pay packets, but the gap closes steadily.

Knowing Her Place: Positioning Women in Science
By Bevan V, Gatrell C. (Cheltenham UK, 2017, Edward Elgar Publishing)

This highly topical book aims to investigate the barriers and influences confining women to “operational/lower level management”. The main premise is a series of structured interviews between the authors, in particular Bevan, and volunteers from the healthcare setting who were known to the author. The interviews are detailed and provide a fascinating overview of the perceptions of male and female biomedical scientists and colleagues in the workplace and in the home environment. Joyce Anne Overfield


Thoughts from the Stonewall LGBT Role Models Training

I approached this course with absolutely no idea whatsoever about what to expect from it and I was anticipating anything from a supportive sharing of LGBTQ experiences to a didactic “this is how to be a good, queer role model”.  What actually happened was both familiar and unfamiliar and simultaneously uncomfortable and reassuring, but overall extremely rewarding.

Common themes that came out during the day included the lack of legitimacy experienced by people with non-binary sexual and gender identities; the removal of the shield of invisibility for trans people who come out and start transitioning; and the guilt often felt on those occasions when we don’t challenge or come out in the professional environment.  This is often because we don’t feel it’s safe or we’re just not comfortable doing so, or because we don’t think it’s appropriate for the (professional) environment we’re in.

The comment was made that non-LGBTQ people often don’t appear to understand or appreciate this because in a heteronormative world, they are never in a position where they (often unexpectedly) have to disclose such deeply-personal information.  One of the delegates considered themselves “lucky” to work in a profession that was generally considered LGBTQ friendly and for an employer that was supportive of them and challenged discrimination.  This use of the word “lucky” was immediately challenged as potentially causing LGBTQ people to set their baseline standards too low, and indicative of the levels of discrimination that still exist in many workplaces.

Some of the common characteristics of role models that emerged from the discussions included: a lack of awareness of their own status; perseverance in the face of adversity; an ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes and champion other people’s causes; and a willingness to challenge the status quo.

Reasons for not challenging barriers to inclusion were identified as a lack of support from different levels of management; time; organisational culture; attitudes of colleagues; lack of effective policies; isolation (geographical and social); and one that came up in a variety of guises: fear.

When we looked more closely at these themes, we found that they were strongly interlinked and underpinned by a strong business-case for change and that overcoming one of the barriers would lead to solutions to the others.  The challenge was to demonstrate in the business case the value to the organisation of such changes, and obtaining robust quantitative evidence for them.  The need to use realistic, small goals to effect large-scale change was emphasised.

So what did I discover?  Well, I discovered that the LGBTQ community represents a diverse range of individual characteristics and it is important that we individually represent them all.  While I have always championed the other voices of the community, I have been concerned that I wasn’t qualified to but I now know that’s okay, I just need to educate myself and, if I don’t know something when asked, say so and try to find out – pretty obvious really.

The three critical themes that I identified from the day were:

1)    role models are individuals with flaws but can inspire simply by being themselves;
2)    with the right support we can make the world a better place for LGBTQ people; and
3)    that we represent a whole myriad of different LGBTQ voices not just those letters we identify with.

Dr Robert Farley, IPEM Trustee, Director of IPEM Professional and Standards Council, and IPEM’s LGBT network mentor.

Case Studies