By Emma Kent
The Chief Executive of the Women’s Engineering Society, Dawn Bonfield, was made an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2016 for services to the promotion of diversity in engineering. It is a fantastic recognition of Dawn’s incredible hard work in increasing the visibility of the Women’s Engineering Society, not least in her five years as a full-time volunteer. (Imagine doing a job for the greater good, unpaid, for five years!) When I read the news, I was delighted for Dawn and also proud to have met her for the first time recently at the ICE.
A niggling part of me questioned the wording of her award – “services to the promotion of diversity in engineering”. I would strongly argue that Dawn is worth so much more than that, and her MBE should have recognised her in a much wider way, for her “services to engineering” – the industry in its entirety. For all that Dawn’s work has been about promoting diversity, in my opinion this has been to the benefit of the whole engineering industry at large. Quite simply, her efforts and those of the Women’s Engineering Society have been to massively widen the engineering talent pool, attracting the best brains to the industry. The success of the future engineering industry cannot rely on the talent of only half the population, and so promoting women engineers is not a service to diversity, but a service to engineering.
I believe the benchmark of success for the Women’s Engineering Society would be to make itself redundant, where they no longer need to tackle the diversity issue. If we are able to build the industry of the future, where we attract the best brains of any gender, race, religious, sexual or other belief, then we won’t need to talk about diversity anymore, because it won’t be a problem. We won’t need a National Women in Engineering Day, when women are an equal proportion of the talent pool. This benchmark is unlikely to be achieved during my career but if we, both men and women, keep working at it then we can make it happen one day.
So for now, let’s celebrate all women in engineering, as well as Dawn’s incredible services to the industry and work together to make the Women’s Engineering Society, National Women in Engineering Day and the engineering diversity discussion irrelevant.