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Why do we need diversity in engineering?

 November 22, 2015

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Nayera Aslam is a principal consultant on AECOM’s transportation team in Birmingham, United Kingdom. She works on the preliminary designs of local and national highway schemes which has included the London Olympics. Aslam was inspired to become an engineer thorugh her father who made her believe that being female should never restrict her ambitions.

At the tender age of 16, Nayera was struggling to identify what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. She had picked mathematics and science subjects for her higher education because she enjoyed these areas of study, and she had a natural aptitude for them. She loved seeing tall, majestic skyscrapers and sweeping bridges, as well as the smaller things that made everyday lives just a little bit easier.

She had a somewhat romanticised view of civil engineering, and never truly considered it as a viable profession. Research into the profession confirmed her suspicions  - girls like her generally didn’t do things like engineering. In the UK, engineering was all about Isambard Brunel and James Watt - inspiring figures who all seemed to fit the same mold and fundamentally didn't represent her. This was the catalyst for her - if she wanted to see a change, she'd have to become that change.

With the pressure mounting from issues such as climate change, adequate global sanitation, and limited food and water supplies, there's a clear need for more engineers and more creativity. In order to respond effectively to the wide range of economic, social and environmental challenges of the coming century, more engineers and diversity are needed.

There've been reports that  with the huge amountsof expected growth in infrastructure needs in the UK, about 87,000 new graduate engineers are needed each year, but the UK only produces around 25,000. 

In more recent years, women have accounted for around 14 per cent of engineering graduates, despite the fact that nearly half of physics general certificate of secondary education pupils have been female. Hwever more than half of the end users of infrastructure projects undertaken are women, yet only around seven per cent of the UK's professional engineering workforce is women and six per cent come from ethnic minority groups.

"As engineers, we all strive for that eureka moment of finding the optimal solution. For me, so many of these moments have occurred in the middle of a brainstorming session or a conversation with my peers and colleagues. We all generate ideas using our understanding of the complexities of a problem as well as our past experiences'" explains Nayera. "As individuals, we are the product of our personal and cultural experiences. A more diverse group, whether this is in terms of gender, race or socio-economic background, will provide a richer tapestry of ideas and innovation. It is imperative that the people designing the solutions for the problems of tomorrow reflect the diversity within our communities."

After spending years now as an engineer, Nayera can see what she refers to as "small flutters of change" in the attitudes of professionals and wider perception of engineering. The benefits of diversity are clear and provide more creative and innovative solutions to problems all over the world. "I believe if we want to drive engineering as a desirable profession, we must appeal to a wider audience and attract talent from all walks of life'" says Nayera

AECOM is in a position to tackle stereotypes and push boundaries in terms of engineering and diversity.  Being the largest global engineering design firm gives them a significant platform to lead the way in terms of diversity.

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