Measuring the Royal Aeronautical Society’s progress on D&I

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RICHARD GEARING FRAeS, Chair of the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee, considers the Society’s progress against the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Diversity and Inclusion Progression Framework ahead of this year’s International Women in Engineering Day.

INWED 2021

This Wednesday, 23 June, is International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) 2021. Whilst of course the amazing achievements of the many women in the engineering sector are not confined to any one day of the year, it is nonetheless an opportunity to celebrate those achievements publicly. But it is also a moment for us to reflect on the continuing challenges women face in the engineering sector and for us to question what more we can all do to ensure that our sector in particular represents the broadest talent pool.

At the Society we have recently been doing some considerable reflection on our position on Diversity & Inclusion as part of our submission on progress against the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Diversity Progression Framework. This is the second time that the Academy has asked Professional Engineering Institutions (PEIs) to benchmark their progress against the Framework. The first occasion was in 2017 and resulted in a formal report of the progress across the PEIs as a whole.

The Progression Framework was updated in time for submissions for 2021; these are now in from a number of professional engineering institutions (PEIs) and professional science institutions and being analysed. The Academy is expected to release the PEI wide results later in the Summer. However, this article aims to give a summary of the Society’s position, in line with our commitment to transparency on D&I, and also to highlight the areas the Society sees as being the most important to progress.

What is the Diversity Progression Framework?

The Diversity Progression Framework grew out of need to be able to track and measure progress on D&I within PEIs. In that regard it built upon the commitment made in 2013 by a number of PEIs, including the Royal Aeronautical Society, in signing the Engineering Diversity Concordat. The Concordat committed signatories to advancing 3 objectives:

  • To communicate commitment to equality and inclusion principles and practices.
  • To take action to increase diversity amongst those in professional engineering membership and registration.
  • To monitor and measure progress.

In 2016 the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Science Council developed the first iteration of the Diversity Progression Framework. The Framework is a maturity model that is designed to measure the level of progress a professional engineering or science institution is making by assessing its actions against the good practice highlighted at one of a set number of levels in the Framework. The benefit of this action focused approach is that it helps professional institutions, especially those starting out on their D&I journey, to understand where to focus their efforts, overcoming the common response of “We’d like to have more diversity and inclusion but we don’t know where to start”.

In 2020 the Framework was revised to its current v2.0 edition. The revised Framework consists of 10 areas that PEIs can benchmark themselves against:

  • Governance and Leadership
  • Membership and Professional Registration
  • Meetings, Conferences and Events
  • Education and Training, Accreditation and Examinations (delivered by the PEI)
  • Accreditation of Education and Training (delivered by other organizations).
  • Prizes, Awards and Grants
  • Communications and Marketing
  • Outreach and Engagement to promote STEM
  • Employment
  • Monitoring and Measuring

How does the Society use the Framework?

Following a single framework allows us to measure year-on-year progress, noting that achieving improvements in D&I is a long-term process to create sustainable cultural change. Furthermore, the Framework is designed to drive improvement in diversity and inclusion in all its aspects rather than one single characteristic like gender or race, and this supports the Society’s multi-strand approach to diversity and inclusion. Benchmarking ourselves in a comparable way with other PEIs also helps us to understand where others might be doing better than us – this gives us the opportunity to learn from their good practice.

As well as supporting the periodic benchmarking exercises by the Academy, the Society uses the Framework to inform its work on a more routine basis. Indeed, the Society runs D&I Forum sessions with Society volunteers to help them embed D&I into their respective areas, and the relevant Framework pillars are used to underpin the workshop discussions and generate debate on the practical actions that groups (Committees, Specialist Groups, Branches etc.) can take.

2021 Submission – How is the Society doing?

Whilst there remains much to do on D&I, it is nonetheless pleasing that there have been improvements in the Society’s D&I position since 2017. The 2021 submission results, along with the 2017 positions, are shown below, noting that the v2.0 Framework has amended the pillars slightly (increasing from 8 to 10) and that the Society does not provide training or examinations and therefore did not score the “Education and Training, Accreditation and Examinations (delivered by the PEI)” pillar in its 2017 nor 2021 submissions. The Society also did not submit a submission for “Employment” in 2017.

The detailed breakdown of how the Society scored itself against each pillar is available on the D&I pages of the Society website here. However, there are some key themes that can be drawn out from across all the pillars with regard to visible progress made since 2017.

  • There is strong support for the Society’s diversity and inclusion work and it has top level buy-in from both the Council and Board of Trustees, underpinned by the Society’s D&I Strategy. This is no doubt in part due to the increasing diversity of these groups. Indeed, all three of the Society’s Boards are now chaired by women for the first time. The Society’s Corporate Plan recognises Diversity and Inclusion as one of the four key priorities for the Society, alongside being more international, a focus on volunteers and digitisation.
  • The Society continues to support women in the sector through its Women in Aviation and Aerospace Committee, which oversees activities such as Alta, and became a supporting signatory of the industry-Government Women in Aviation & Aerospace Charter in 2018.
  • The increasing focus on D&I over the last 12 months in particular has led to the previously temporary D&I Working Group being permanently established as the permanent D&I Committee, reporting to the Board of Trustees.
  • The Society has made changes to its membership criteria, recently approved at the Special General Meeting in May, which bases membership grades around competence rather than time served.
  • All Board and Committees are required to include D&I objectives written into their Terms of Reference and there are increasing conversations about these topics in meetings.
  • The Society is seeing increasing representation of women in its membership, rising from 5% in 2015 to 10% in 2019 and now to 14.1% in 2021. The number of female Fellows has also increased (from 2.5% in 2015, to 3.6% in 2019 and now to 4.6% in 2021).
    With regard to registration with the Engineering Council, amongst total registrants with the Society, the percentage of women has increased from 4.0% in 2015 to 5.8% in 2020, with Chartered Engineering registration showing an increase of women from 3.7% in 2015 to 5.9% in 2020.
  • The Society’s Alta mentoring platform for women has doubled the number of users from last year (225 in Jan 20 to 439 in Jan 21). There have also been a number of supporting events to help women connect and share experiences, including online sessions during lockdown.
  • The Society has increased the number of D&I Good Practice Guides on its website. These are designed to provide assistance to members, especially those in volunteer leadership positions within the Society’s Boards and Committees, and topics range from how to be a diversity ally to how to take positive action.
  • With regard to the Society’s Medals and Awards programme, there are increasing numbers of nominations of women and from the wider international community.
  • The Society has increased the number and range of events and activities that seek to celebrate and support the wide and diverse range of people involved in the international aviation and aerospace sectors. The Society increasingly makes these available online with a dedicated page on its website highlighting these events and providing access to recordings of past events. This included the inaugural Mary Jackson Named Lecture in January 2021, the first time the Society has named a lecture in honour of a member of the Black community. The lecture had 227 live viewers and was highly rated by attendees (‘Excellent’ by 85% and ‘Good’ by 15%). The Society’s 2020 Amy Johnson Lecture had over 380 live viewers and nearly 550 views since on the Society’s YouTube channel.
  • The Society uses its social media and print channels to support its objectives on D&I, including in support of the Alta mentoring scheme, the Amy Johnson and Mary Jackson Named Lectures, Black History Month and Pride. Our Black History Month podcast with Council Member Kerissa Khan MRAeS, talking about the impact of Covid-19 and why diversity and inclusion matters, has had over 1,000 plays.
  • Our unique and long-running careers and education service continues to inspire and support those looking for a career in the sector. In particular, the Society seeks to ensure that its outreach activity reaches those who might not otherwise have links to aviation and aerospace, with funding targeted at supporting schools from disadvantaged backgrounds, as one example. Our upcoming Falcon 2 project, a hands-on STEM challenge designed around diversity, specifically disability and accessibility in engineering design, aims to change mindsets at a young age and work more closely with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) schools. We are also ensuring teachers are involved in designing the initiative, based on the lessons learned from our previous Schools Build A Plane programme.
  • Through the Aerostories section of the dedicated Careers in Aerospace website, the Society seeks to promote a diverse range of role models from across the aviation and aerospace sectors.
  • The Society is fortunate to have a highly diverse staff at all levels and they are highly supportive of the Society’s D&I stance; this is critical too, as many have roles in assisting the running of volunteer-led activities and they are therefore well placed to offer constructive challenge to ensure diversity and inclusion aspects are considered in the planning and delivery phases. During a re-organization of our staff in 2020 we also took the opportunity to formally allocate diversity and inclusion responsibilities to those staff who deliver this activity and this now features in their role titles.

In addition to these the successes above, the Society also recognizes that there are areas for improvement to allow it to reach its goal of being Level 3 across all Framework pillars by 2025.

  • The Society is a large organisation with significant levels of activity being delivered in a decentralised structure across the globe by our Divisions, Branches and Specialist Groups. It is recognised that there is more variability in the approach to D&I than in the more centrally controlled elements of the Society’s activity. The ongoing programme of D&I Forums will continue to engage with these groups to help them develop and energise their approach to D&I.
  • With regard to diversity monitoring data, whilst the Society does gather data in some areas, more could be done to gather a greater range of data and to exploit this data more effectively to understand where our diversity and inclusion interventions could make the greatest impact. In particular, the Society needs to understand better the demographic within it membership at a more granular level than simply the number of women or members of the BAME community in its overall membership. This will likely include the areas of the sector they work in and which Society events and groupings do they interact with. There is also a need to understand intersectional issues (i.e. those from more than one under-represented community, e.g. Black women) and consider how the Society is meeting those needs.
  • The Society is currently making technical changes to its systems to improve its data capture capabilities (including increasing the number of options) as a precursor to a wider campaign to encourage diversity declarations, explaining how and why this data is used to improve the services and activities the Society delivers for everyone. Whilst age and gender declarations are at 99%, declarations for other characteristics are generally less than 40%.
Alta webinar IWD March 21
  • Whilst the diversity of participants at our events, in particular speakers, is increasing, there is still more to do to ensure our conference, lecture and event programmes feature the broadest range of diverse talent. As well as this subject being a feature of our D&I Forum sessions, the Society has also published Good Practice Guides on holding inclusive events and how to use social media to reach out to diverse speakers/contacts. This is also an area where an increased focus on quantitative data is required, as part of the Society’s overall diversity monitoring activity.
  • The Society is continuing its work to introduce a more effective mechanism for individuals, anonymously if they wish, to provide D&I feedback on their experience of Society activities to allow the Society to improve. The Society is also working on a more explicit D&I Policy that builds on the Code of Conduct provisions and is considering what further changes to its By-Laws and Regulations may be necessary to improve the diversity and inclusion of its governance and activities.
  • The Society is licensed by the Engineering Council to review and accredit degrees in fields relating to aerospace engineering in accordance with the Accreditation of Higher Education Providers (AHEP) Framework. The Society welcomed the new edition of AHEP published in August 2020 which provides clearer statements on diversity and inclusion expectations of organizations delivering engineering related courses, including embedding inclusive engineering principles into design teaching and learning, as well as creating a diverse and inclusive culture for staff and students. That said, certain aspects of accreditation are dictated by the AHEP Framework and the Society works closely with other PEIs to ensure accreditation procedures are applied fairly and standardised, where possible.
  • The Society has initiated discussions with the Royal Academy of Engineering during this review to highlight the need for PEIs, the Academy, Engineering Council and Science Council to work together on implementation of further measures to include diversity and inclusion within accreditation activities to meet the needs of the Diversity Progression Framework.

Summary

The case for D&I is well understood across the leadership of the Royal Aeronautical Society and it is that support that has allowed continued progress to occur especially since the previous Diversity Progression Framework submission in 2017. However, D&I remains a continuing journey both for the Society and the wider sector. The support for gender balance remains crucial and we are proud of the achievements of the Women in Aerospace & Aviation Committee and the success of the Alta mentoring scheme. We are now committed to increasing this support to other underrepresented groups with clear progress already achieved. Nonetheless, it remains the goal of the Society, as the sector’s professional body, to set the bar high in this area and to sustain the necessary culture changes. That is only possible because of the commitment of Society volunteers, at all levels, and our dedicated staff, as well as the Society’s other supporters.

Richard Gearing FRAeS
21 June 2021