Look around you. Who do you work with and see every day? Who is participating in your projects? On the larger scale, what are the demographics in your field? How about your industry? How different are these people from you?
For those of us who are employees of large, multinational companies with customers in many countries, we need to know how best to serve a wide variety of people. We might be charged with developing engineering products and services to help solve problems both in our neighborhood as well as regions far away and vastly different from our own. We will likely have to work with teams of people, including those from remote locations who are culturally different. To be effective engineers, we therefore must work well with diverse groups. But how do we learn to do that?
Here are some steps you can take:
- Become aware of your unconscious biases when forming teams. Think carefully about who should be on your team. Consider including team members with diverse backgrounds to make your group more inclusive. Build teams that give a voice to everyone.
- Attend diversity training programs and events on the topic. Become better educated on diversity issues and gather resources and information to help you in this effort.
- Request representation from underrepresented groups. As a member of an organization like IEEE, you can ask that members from underrepresented groups be considered for panels and committees, be nominated for awards, and more. Your voice carries weight. Asking leadership to help the organization diversify will make an impact.
- Go beyond your network. Widen the pool of candidates by approaching people you normally don’t ask for recommendations on how to hire or include in a project, such as women and minority groups.
- Volunteer for groups that are encouraging diversity. These may include IEEE Women in Engineering and the IEEE Photonics Society’s Women in Photonics initiative. You can also get involved in university-led diversity initiatives to increase the number of women, minorities, and those from low-income households studying in STEM fields.
If you serve as a role model in increasing diversity, and are unapologetic about it, others will follow suit. Opening up to people unlike you—those whose point of view, life experiences, and identity are different from your own—is incredibly important to your own worldview and understanding.
In the global world we live in today, there is no “right” way of doing things. Those from varied backgrounds can help change the way we think for the better, and help us see the larger picture and how we can best contribute. New environments also could lead to productive collaborations.
Challenging yourself to go beyond the familiar and deliberately seeking out new ideas and experiences that you otherwise wouldn’t have will also increase your creativity. Diverse interactions can certainly spark innovation, unique approaches to problem-solving, and novel concepts for products.
Senior Member Arti Agrawal is an associate professor at the University of Technology, Sydney. She is director of the university’s Women in Engineering and IT program, an associate editor of the IEEE Photonics Journal and associate vice president of diversity for the IEEE Photonics Society.