New engineering program strives for gender equity

Engineering Practice Academy prepares students for professional life with diversity and inclusion strategy
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Dr Francesca Maclean

When the students at Swinburne University of Technology’s revolutionary new Engineering Practice Academy launch into a new project, their first step is to fill out an inclusion plan.

It’s part of a greater strategy to ensure that from day one the budding engineers are well versed in the need for diversity within a group, including the need for a critical mass of women.

Leading the Academy’s approach to diversity and inclusion is Engineer in Residence, Dr Francesca Maclean. She says the industry needs to do more to be inclusive of all genders.

“You need to make time for gender equity,” says Dr Maclean.

“If you don’t, it will be 2050 and we will still be struggling with the same problem – if not worse.”

With a recent Engineers Australia report showing that 85 per cent of completing undergrad engineering students and 88 per cent of industry professionals are men, Dr Maclean is passionate about making sure the Academy proactively addresses gender inequity.

“At the Academy we consciously – deliberately – made it our business priority, and we recommend other institutions do this too.”

Dr Maclean is making sure that gender equity is everyone’s concern, creating a culture where all can learn about the complex, nuanced system of gender inequity.

“Most importantly, we are creating a system in which we work together to take tangible, impactful action,” she says.

The Academy’s Diversity and Inclusion strategy features non-negotiable values that make all staff and students, or as they’re known in the Academy ‘associates’, responsible for gender equity and inclusion.

  • Staff and associates are individually responsible for fostering diversity and inclusion;
  • Industry Partners genuinely align with the Academy’s diversity and inclusion values; and
  • The Academy must proactively assess performance with diversity and inclusion.

The Academy is working towards having at least 40 percent female associates by 2020.  

Instead of having a Diversity and Inclusion team that sits only within HR, the Academy has Diversity and Inclusion sit across the business.

According to another of the Academy’s Engineers in Residence, Jenny Turner, gender equity is central to the four-year undergraduate degree and is the first step in helping to break down the profession’s male-dominated environment.

“Something that we are focusing on strongly in the Academy is how we can help people appreciate difference,” says Ms Turner, a humanitarian engineer.

“We are doing it deliberately; changing how engineers learn, how we talk about engineering and we are shifting the conversation around engineering to make it more appealing, especially to women.”