Find out how Georgia, nominated Rising Star for the Black British Business Awards, and founder of D-vers-ty is creating lasting change in across the sector.
Recently nominated as a Rising Star for the STEM category of the Black British Business Awards, Georgia is the founder of D-vers-ty, a UK based organisation that is working with engineering and technology businesses to make their working environments more inclusive. D-vers-ty is challenging the habit of identifying differences before recognising attributes and talents in Engineering and Technology fields by offering inclusivity workshops, mentorship, events, content creation and much more.
Georgia studied Civil Engineering at the University of Portsmouth, and took part in the first-ever Engineers Without Borders UK Engineering For People Design Challenge in 2012 during which she focused on housing solutions to withstand floods and earthquakes in East Timor, Indonesia. The challenge helped to develop Georgia’s interest in designing for people and gave her a wider perspective of the potential impact of engineering. Georgia is now a Civil Engineer at BAM Nuttall, where her role is in design management, specialising in structures and bridges, predominantly around bridge reconstruction in the South East on behalf of Network Rail.
What inspired you to get involved with Engineers Without Borders UK?
I first became aware of Engineers Without Borders UK whilst taking part in the Engineering For People Design Challenge at university in Portsmouth. It was the only experience I’ve had to actually design for a completely different community, which was invaluable to me and my development. I remained a member of Engineers Without Borders after university and I’ve recently been getting involved in more activities such as the The Stories Behind the Statistics panel discussion, which focused on racism and engineering
What led you to set up D-vers-ty?
Being from a Caribbean background, I’ve always felt that my heritage influences who I am, what I do and the way I work. During conversations with a friend who is also in engineering, we realised we have always been very enthusiastic and willing to give talks and presentations about the industry, but we started to ask ourselves if we were being offered opportunities as a result of our skin colour, as opposed to our genuine merit and enthusiasm. Were the speaking requests a result of tokenism? This started raising questions in our minds and gave us a sense of imposter syndrome. We would often go into schools to give talks and say engineering is great, but we felt it was giving a false introduction to the engineering community. This is what inspired me to start D-vers-ty – developing the community to be more inclusive for the next generation. I believe that you need to bring your ‘whole self’ to work to reach your potential, and real diversity comes from true inclusion.
There were some pretty shocking figures from the Royal Society of Engineering that 27% of UK-domiciled engineering graduates came from Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic backgrounds (BAME), but only 7.8% of engineering professionals are BAME. What impact does this disparity have in the sector?
As engineers we have the responsibility to design specifically for the community that we are working with – who are the people that will use this? Can everyone use it? We need to have inclusivity in our mind in all aspects of the design process. It’s important that we have representation from different communities and groups in order to ensure this inclusivity. This is especially important when designing for other countries or areas we are unfamiliar with. If you are supposed to be building solutions for all people, but the engineering community is missing people from minority backgrounds, how can their needs be taken into consideration?
Could you give us an example of how senior management can engage more effectively to support responsible and diverse engineering principles?
As engineers, we tend to under-promote what we do and the impact we have on communities, but engineers are generally well respected around the world. Having respect and seniority in a community allows you to shine the light on less represented causes. It’s having the power to make space for others. For many new graduates, industry placements aren’t always accessible to everyone. Senior Management has the power to offer placements/experience on worthy projects. They can also encourage the right education, behaviour, principles and inclusivity within the workplace.
Do you feel like diversity is improving from your personal experience in your current workplace – are you able to implement any of your D-vers-ty work?
Bam Nuttall has a Minorities Group already and they are actively working to improve and encourage inclusivity in our workplace. Having said that, often engineering is made up of teams from other companies or other contractors – these are the people you might work with three or four times a week. Although Bam Nuttall is tuned in to diversity issues, you can’t guarantee that your other industry contacts will also be – this is why D-vers-ty can help, by assisting organisations with inclusion education and programs, not only for recruitment purposes but also for retention too.
Why is globally responsible engineering so important?
If we look at the number of natural disasters in recent years, it’s becoming very apparent that the impact humans are having needs to be managed. Engineers have the key skills to extend their knowledge and experience to areas of the world that may need it or may want it. The engineering community is able to provide solutions to many of the issues we face as a species, so why would we not share ideas with each other? Thinking globally means offering more solutions to a problem and offers an opportunity to learn something different.
What advice would you give to engineers to ensure we are serving all people and the planet?
Think beyond yourself and your needs. Try different things, work on different projects in different countries, go to different countries. Learning about other people and their cultures gives you an insightful perspective that will make you a more well-rounded engineer.
One more thing, concrete isn’t always the answer!
Georgia Thompson: Civil Engineer and founder of D-vers-ty
Learn more about George’s work in the renewable energy sector in Kenya and how his experience of reviewing submissions for the Engineering for People Design Challenge has shaped his outlook on projects in his home country.
Find out how Chris’ experience of being part of Engineers Without Borders UK University Chapter has shaped his outlook on engineering and his career to date, as he tackles the challenges of energy efficiency in National Trust properties.