Let’s Get Loud: Mobilising Diversity
BlogLet’s Get Loud: Mobilising Diversity

Pictured (l to r): Alexie Seller (Pollinate), the Hon Lisa Singh and Eleanor Loudon (EWB Australia)

By Eleanor Loudon, CEO Engineers Without Borders

When talk turns to mobilising diversity in the professional sector, you can pretty much guarantee that women are the majority gender represented in the room. So I was thrilled to instantly observe a more gender diverse group of professionals at a recent event hosted by Arup. Engaging more diverse listeners and thinkers was a promising start in addressing our panel’s challenge question – “Is the mobilisation of diversity the key to increasing impact?”.

Joining the Hon Lisa Singh (Senator for Tasmania), Alexie Seller (CEO, Pollinate Group), and hosted and moderated by Kirsten McDonald (Associate Principal, Arup International Development), our panel discussion brought differing but convergent lenses to the subject of diversity. A key thread was addressing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and specifically SDG5 – Gender Equality. But mobilising diversity in all forms is a principle that crosscuts all SDGs - otherwise, we will never create change.

Senator Singh took a big picture view, citing the complementary strengths of our neighbours in the Asia-Pacific, and the experience and passion of diaspora in Australia.  If we embrace this diversity at scale, we open ourselves to exciting opportunities in the public, private and for-purpose sector and the potential for creating population-level change.

Alexie shared her learning as a CEO of an organisation where, initially, a lack of diversity was a real issue, and how not having strategies in place meant this imbalance becomes the norm. As a result, she’s made (and continues to make) sweeping changes. She urged everyone to not be afraid to make the big calls, and to really challenge yourself in identifying gaps and making change happen. Her big call was to recently merge with a women-run organisation in Nepal; this immediately shifted the gender imbalance, the skills and resources needed to include and empower women in business. A key focus of Pollinate is to enable empowerment of under-represented groups through business skilling - this is just one of their key change-making strategies.

I shared the learnings from EWB Australia’s “Engineering Redefined” research – a report which uncovers why EWB Australia has an off-the-charts female participation and engagement rate. A diverse sector creates more diverse innovations and solutions that can make a real difference – our report outlines what works in making diversity real. And I talked about the critical sweet spot - the nexus of having a diverse representation in the sector and listening to diverse voices in the communities in which engineering projects are run. Whilst engineering is often stereotyped as engaging the brain with a focus on technical skills, EWB found that we naturally mobilise greater diversity when we shift the conversation to the social and environmental outcomes that engineering produces.

Finally, we talked about the future engineer, who needs to be able to engage with diverse stakeholders and listen to those underrepresented voices who may be more difficult to engage, but without whom a successful project is unlikely. EWB Australia engages with our future engineers across their lifetime of learning – from primary and secondary ‘School Outreach’ programs, to University study tours and design challenges, to career-engineer professional development opportunities and field placements. We are uniquely placed to shift diversity in the sector though this deep engagement with the sector’s people pipeline. It was our work in pioneering the concept of ‘Humanitarian Engineering’ that now sees this practice as a major component of Engineering degrees across Australian universities.

Creating such deep change may seem like a mammoth task for our small organisation. But we have a track record. Who would have thought fifteen years ago that the engineering education sector will have embedded Humanitarian Engineering so deeply?  Mobilising diversity remains so important, and there’s so much more to be done.

The natural audience question after such a potent discussion is - what do we actually do? how do we mobilise change?

Let’s talk louder and share more broadly the amazing impact that diverse thinking has on engineering social and environmental solutions. There are so many wonderful people in our sector that already champion diversity. Let’s amplify those voices and tell those stories.

As our closing speaker, Peter Bailey (Group Director of Sustainability Development, Arup) said, we must use the SDGs as a framework for acting more responsibly – intentionally targeting diversity both in the sector and in the conversations we hold, to develop meaningful and timely solutions to the SDGs.

At EWB Australia we are pleased to partner with Arup on a raft of projects that embrace diverse thinking for positive community impact. In many ways Arup is pioneering how businesses can wholeheartedly walk the diversity talk. Hosting this event - and attracting more men to this discussion - is just a small but meaningful example of mobilising diversity.

EWB Australia has recently launched a Professional Intensives program that fosters those critical soft skills essential to create more diverse engineering solutions. Join our 2019 mid-year Intensives - in remote Australia or Cambodia – to become a future-fit engineer. Register for more information here

The “Engineering Redefined” report was supported by the Origin Foundation and can be downloaded here.