AAES Assembly Focuses on Leadership Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion

Event and Education Session Presentations

General Assembly Meeting
November 5, 2014

AAES industry leaders agree there is a need for associations and companies to continue to develop and implement a more comprehensive, integrated, and strategic focus on diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace and within the engineering community. However, moving the needle on D&I metrics for various underrepresented groups continues to be a challenge.

At the November 5 AAES General Assembly meeting, 46 invited leaders from the various AAES Member Societies gathered to discuss and propose action plans to implement diversity and inclusion strategies and to answer the critical question: What can a leader do to help lead the way in creating a culture of inclusion? 

AAES Chair Victoria Rockwell said the goal of the Diversity and Inclusion in Engineering Session was to illustrate how leadership commitment from the top helps drive results and change through best practices.

"I think the importance of AAES taking a firm stand on the importance of diversity is that we influence so many professional engineers, engineering educators, and corporations," explained Rockwell, who is director of Investment Development at Air Liquide USA LLC. "So if the leaders of our professional engineering organizations have a firm policy in diversity, this will carry through to our members, to their corporations, and to society at large."

A centerpiece of the meeting was a diversity and inclusion activity developed by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), which looked at the impact and issues associated with unconscious bias and the efforts on how to create an inclusive environment in the workplace. With the help of a new diversity and inclusion knowledge card deck, developed and sponsored by SWE and ARUP, and a facilitation guide, attendees were able to discuss in small work groups why they think diversity matters and where diversity and inclusion show up in their associations in relation to five critical areas: employee engagement, recruitment, talent management, training and development, and promotion.

Under the direction of Peter Finn, deputy executive director and chief learning officer at SWE, the groups were asked to go through the 24 colored-coded "knowledge cards" and then address questions such as: Where does diversity and inclusion show up in your company, how is it measured within the organization, how does that measurement get communicated, how has learning about diversity and inclusion affected your organization, how can greater workforce diversity improve business, what steps can be taken to create an environment that supports different perspectives, and what can be done to make a company more attractive to a new and more diverse workforce demographics?

"The goal of the exercise was to acknowledge that there is bias [in the workplace] and to confront that bias so that these industry leaders will focus decision-making around developing an inclusive culture," said Finn. "So hopefully what people will come away with is being able to develop different strategies of what they can do within their own organization, or something that they can provide to their corporate partners and other organization that they work with."

To fully understand that attendees do not have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to diversity and inclusion, participants heard from leaders of several organizations that have recently held workshops or summits, including Norman L. Fortenberry, Sc.D., executive director of the American Society for Engineering Education, Garry Warren, Ph.D., past president of the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society (TMS) and president-elect of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME), and Wanda E. Ward, Ph.D., office head of the Office of International and Integrative Activities at the National Science Foundation.

Karl W. Reid, Ed.D., executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers, provided an overview of his organization and discussed with attendees ways NSBE could engage and work with other engineering associations within AAES. Karen Horting, CAE, executive director and CEO of SWE, led a sharing of best practices in D&I.

The meeting concluded with Rockwell asking the attendees to brainstorm some approaches that will allow AAES to better address diversity and inclusion challenges. Among some of the suggestions:

  • Develop a common D&I policy;
  • Recommend D&I language that can be included in professional codes of ethics;
  • Write a series of articles that member organizations can publish in their newsletters;
  • Agree on a set of key metrics for progress;
  • Develop diversity training materials;
  • Hold an AAES diversity and inclusion summit;
  • Include diversity and inclusion in ABET accreditation requirements, or at least discuss D&I best practices in ABET visits;
  • Develop marketing approaches to spread the message;
  • Establish an AAES diversity award;
  • Create a system for tracking diversity and inclusion opportunities; and
  • Increase collaboration among AAES member organizations.

"I am very hopeful from both the workshop and from what I am hearing from members [in attendance] that AAES needs to be that clearing house of diversity and inclusion information and strongly promote that certain D&I activities should take place within these organizations," concluded Rockwell.

—By Doug Scott, Associate Editor, ASCE News