Our third segment of this special series sees our head of diversity, culture and inclusion, Angelina Pillai sitting down with Justine Romanis from Engineers Australia (EA). Justine leads EA’s professional diversity and STEM program which places inclusion and equity at the heart of their initiatives.
What does equity mean to you?
Diversity can’t exist without inclusion. Everyone needs to feel included, that they all have a voice and that their voice can be heard.
Equity to me is about looking at individuals, not the workforce as a whole, because the workforce is made up of individuals, who come in all different ‘sizes’ and they all start from a different place.
So, equity is about giving everyone the same opportunity at the same level yet recognising that it will be different for different individuals.
How are issues of gender, neurodiversity and First Nations’ relationships celebrated/addressed in your professions, through your professional association?
The four areas of diversity that we concentrate on are:
- Gender – largest employer of all STEM professions with the lowest participation rate of women
- Migrants – 60% of engineering workforce is born overseas
- First Nations
This is not to say that other areas of diversity are less important, it’s just that at present, this is what we are focussing on, and ensuring that we do it properly.
We are currently in a war for talent, and in engineering specifically, we have a critical shortage of talent. So, addressing these issues is really important for people’s consideration when they are moving into an organisation. It speaks to business, and it makes good business sense for organisations to be publicly supporting and actioning diversity and equity policies and initiatives to attract the best talent.
Gender is a huge focus for the engineering profession. For example, there is only 13% female participation. Engineering is the largest employer of STEM professions, yet it is the poorest performer when it comes to female participation. This has been identified by Government and by the Chief Scientist who has singled out engineering from the STEM 2020 workforce report. So, as a profession, we have a lot of work to do; and so, we do a lot of work in this space.
At EA we celebrate gender in many ways, such as International Women’s Day and International Women in Engineering Day. These events are very well attended, and the engagement is high.
Romilly Madew (CEO, EA) is part of the Champions of Change Coalition, which is all about supporting gender. Internally at EA we have revised our parental leave policies and we’ve encouraged our male team members to take up parental leave. We also do quite a bit of analysis on the gender pay gap.
EA did research into the barriers to employment for migrant engineers, the report launched in late 2021. Female migrant engineers have 3x the unemployment rate as their Australian born counterparts. When we are an industry that is struggling to attract women, we have very low proportions of women. We developed the Global Engineering Talent (GET) program which was based on the barriers that we identified through the research such as local experience, technical terminology, and Australian Standards knowledge and developed the GET pilot to get them up to speed on all those aspects.
EA is committed to ensuring we maximise the engineering talent we have here, through encouraging more women to enter and stay in the engineering profession and increase employment outcomes for our migrant and refugee engineers.
First Nations and Reconciliation
This has been a long journey for EA. We have an Indigenous Engineers Group that was developed under our College of Leadership and Management. This group was responsible for our Board endorsed support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2019.
EA is also in the process of developing our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) which we will be announcing this later this year. EA is already active in supporting First Nations and Reconciliation, so a RAP is a logical next step for us in demonstrating our commitment. We have also partnered with Engineers Without Borders on an Indigenous Engineering Education program, that is uniquely completely led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The pilot has just been completed and we are reviewing the learnings currently.
At this stage, externally it is not on our radar for the profession, however that will slowly shift based on capacity to focus on this area. Internally, our Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Council have identified neurodiversity from a staff perspective, so we are likely to see traction within the next twelve months.
Ultimately, all of these issues around diversity are brought back to the equity piece. Whilst there is talent around and they are all going to contribute equally to the success of the organisation, they will all need different levels of support from the organisation to ensure that they are able to contribute their true value.
In your view, what is the obligation of professionals to improve/support the following across professional landscapes and the professions in general? How do/can they do this?
Engineers are bound by the Code of Ethics, which includes educating oneself, listening, learning and respecting others. That includes supporting and encouraging diversity, including First Nations and other forms of equity. As a peak body, EA’s role is to provide educational information and as a membership of individual professionals, it is about actively seeking out and participating in that information and being well educated across these areas.
Workplaces are changing and it’s one’s responsibility to be embracing and driving those changes and working alongside their professional association to do this.
How do you measure diversity, equity and inclusion in your organisation?
Targets and measurements are critical in any organisation. Diversity and equity should not be any different. For example, around 2018, EA set a target to achieve 30% female representation on all our national boards and committees by 2020. At the time, we were sitting on 17%. We achieved this target by 2019, and now we are sitting over 36% by putting in the effort and commitment.
Other measurements include reporting to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) on gender and pay matters and we run a People Pulse quarterly staff survey which measures against inclusion and equity metrics.
I think once we get a more balanced workplace, other things stem from that. There will be more balance in different areas such as the pay gap, less bullying and sexual harassment, effective parental leave practices and we can start to change the dynamic of the entire workplace.
Eventually, if everything was equal and equitable, there wouldn’t need to be a role like mine!
How would you like ACoP to support this agenda for your professional association?
Shared knowledge from other professional associations is really critical. Having sessions on certain topics and what their learnings were would help significantly. Learning from others’ mistakes is really helpful and powerful. ACoP, with multiple Member Associations can help facilitate these conversations.