Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

Being Brunel |

Scroll to top

Top

No Comments

InterEngineering

InterEngineering
There’s a phrase- omission is admission. If nobody is talking about something, then there is probably a problem.

A while ago I wrote a post about being a gay civil engineer. Like most of the stuff I write, I didn’t really expect anything to come of it; Being Brunel is a site I maintain to celebrate and have fun with civil engineering- you can check the NCE if you want the news, or pound your way through the immeasurable number of journals the institutions put out if you want to bore your friends and relatives with fascinating engineering advances. So what makes that post interesting, is what happened after.

Well, for a while, nothing much. But then, as is the way with the internet, I started to get a steady stream of visitors who had reached the site specifically from searches about being a gay civil engineer. Because I tend to ramble on about anything that takes my fancy, it’s not often I craft an individual post that page ranks on Google; it was enough to make me wish I hadn’t been my sardonic self and had written something a bit more inspirational sounding… although I dare say that would have required some outside help.

A month or so after, during my bi-annual catch up with LinkedIn, I stumbled upon someone advertising an event being run by the Royal Academy of Engineering called ‘Data Driven Diversity‘; a look at the data on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender engineers. Given that I could barely move for people reminding me that 50% of the world are women, and engineering only manages to achieve 20%- I thought it might be worth a look.

Around 50% of LGBT engineers aren’t out in the workplace. It’s a fairly damming statistic- imagine if half of all women in engineering had to pretend to be men just to feel comfortable in the workplace?

As it turns out, there isn’t much information about. What the event did do, however, was change my mind about a few things. I met a lot of other people who were all infinitely more interesting than me; and I got to hear about their experiences, both in life, and the industry. Stories from engineers working in massive firms who just assume that every company has a support network, those who have avoided whole disciplines based of the public image and people who had just silently left companies because of a bad culture.

The problem with engineers is that they have a habit of being way too pragmatic. I’ll probably write a whole article on this one day- we often just acknowledge that things aren’t ideal, but not so bad that we (who can solve all problems) can’t cope. And looking back at what I wrote last year; there is a subtext of that pragmatism there- I even went as far as to lament the lack of discussion but say, because I’d learned to live with it, that it was OK.

There’s a phrase- omission is admission. If nobody is talking about something, then there is probably a problem.

The event made me realise that the visitors coming to my site just to read about my own experience were a symptom of a much larger problem- engineering is pretty behind most other disciplines in this respect. Professions and industries such as law, education and technology had already established independent groups, run campaigns and found role models to lead discussion; while we were only just getting in a room together.

Companies who provided support were getting more out of, and better retaining, their employees; and these industries that were talking about it were not the ones desperately fighting skill shortages. And the shame of it was that putting something out there about myself had taken so little of my time for such a marked impression; imagine how much more effective it would gave been had it been written by an industry figurehead, and not just some randomer who measures the elastic modulus of cake.

Here’s hoping we’ll soon be working in an industry where people don’t wonder if life is any different being a civil engineer, just because you happen to be gay as well.

Surveys conducted after the event find that somewhere around 50% of LGBT engineers aren’t out in the workplace. It’s a fairly damming statistic- imagine if half of all women in engineering had to pretend to be men just to feel comfortable in the workplace? The main lesson I learnt at the RAEng event was that the best thing we could do was normalise the discussion; increase the visibility of what is still a very hidden minority.

All riled up to go forth and make a difference, I then got wrapped up in being an engineer again and did nothing. Luckily, a month or so after, Twitter connected me to a group of people who had actually done something after leaving the event. Turning up a week later to one of the first meetings; we formed InterEngineering; maintaining the Inter brand that media, law, energy and technology were already successfully employing.

InterEngineering was set up to keep the discussion going- employing those lessons we had learnt about supporting company networks; finding a place for those in the many SME’s; increasing visibility- and learning some new ones. We’re hoping that by making resources available, running events and getting the message out there; we’ll soon be working in an industry where people don’t wonder if life is any different being a civil engineer, just because you happen to be gay as well.

I’m forever glad for being jolted out of my “it is what it is” engineering standby to “it really could be better, and it’s really not that difficult to make it so”.

It’s been an interesting ride so far; I’ve visited a surprising number of institutions (including the British Computing Society and our very own ICE), sent a lot of unanswered emails, been interviewed by the NCE, heard a tonnes of fascinating stories (both good and bad), had my DE stumble upon me talking to myself (lit. practising a presentation) with a massive rainbow flag on the projector and accidentally discovered a contingent of like minded gay engineers at work.

Despite the inordinate amount of time it’s taken from me- and the rest of the committee (still looking for more members!)- it’s been fun. We’re fast approaching our third event, and have been lucky enough to see the membership, the group and our aims grow so much in such a short period of time. I’m forever glad for being jolted out of my “it is what it is” engineering standby to “it really could be better, and it’s really not that difficult to make it so”.

So yeah- that’s what I’ve been up to.

More About InterEngineering

Submit a Comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.