A new approach to equality and diversity for tomorrow’s STEM leaders

‘Confident Diversity’ is an innovative intervention model, developed by our Training and Development Manager, Allison Johnstone, through participation in ULAB Scotland. The Confident Diversity model looks at the issue of gender equality in STEM through a new lens: aligning the employability and equality, diversity and inclusion agendas within education. It looks to tackle occupational segregation and inequalities systematically, by taking a long-term and sustainable approach. At its heart are two key concepts:

  • Today’s students are tomorrow’s managers and leaders who will influence ED&I in their workplaces
  • To be confident in managing difference we need both knowledge and enhanced personal skills

In the “Confident Diversity” model, input is embedded throughout the curriculum and linked to Professional Institutions’ standards. Students gain knowledge of issues around equality and diversity (e.g. the business case, intersectionality, unconscious bias etc.) whilst also developing skills which will support them to manage diversity (both in terms of equality strands and diversity of work approaches); communicate effectively with a range of people; and develop self-awareness and resilience.

Small scale pilot study

Following development of the model, Equate Scotland, the Confident Futures team and the School of Engineering and the Built Environment at Edinburgh Napier University partnered to run a pilot study with 3rd Year Engineering students. The pilot received excellent student feedback, with students’ average score for confidence in talking about difference and diversity rising from 6.4 prior to the workshop to 7.9 after. Over 60% of students identified new behaviours following the workshop and almost 90% of students identified new learning.

Opportunities for Development

There are many opportunities for development of the Confident Diversity model:

  • Moving beyond engineering, by mapping the knowledge and skills development against other professional body standards i.e. CIPD, General Teaching Council etc.
  • Moving beyond universities into other education settings
  • Moving beyond formal education to develop CPD offerings for current engineers working towards chartered or incorporated status, or indeed those that that already are chartered and want to think more about ED&I within their workplace.
  • Moving beyond subjects to leadership development by aligning the model with leadership frameworks such as sustainable leadership (Hargreaves & Fink, 2006) and those outlined in Theory U (Sharmer, 2013)

Next Steps

The project is currently at pilot project stage. Equate Scotland is working with the Higher Education Academy (HEA) to develop at 3 year project to develop this work further. We are looking to focus this work in engineering in the first instance and are looking for project partners from industry, education and professional bodies.

“I found it very useful such as receiving information and data that we don’t usually hear about. For an example, the percentage of women in the engineering industry in the UK shocked me which was an epiphany for me to work even harder to be a part of that small percentage in the future. I learned more about my rights and what should be expected in an equal work environment so I will not blindly accept discriminatory actions. I particularly enjoyed the personality chart section, I find it particularly interesting in working with different individuals and how to compromise with others to create the most effective team. I actually used this personality chart in a Management coursework , and received some extra marks!”

3rd Year Engineering Student