Jun 15, 2018

Diversity And Thriving

First published on the IET website.

By Ozak Esu

Dr Ozak Esu, the 2017 Young Woman Engineer of the Year award winner, gave an inspirational speech to STEM volunteers. Ozak kindly agreed to share her thoughts.

I am Dr Ozak Esu, an electrical engineer at Cundall, and The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) Young Woman Engineer of the Year 2017 award winner. Please note that applications for the IET YWE 2018 Awards are open and close on the 8th of July.

I am delighted and feel honoured to be in this room today, filled with truly inspirational volunteers dedicating their time, effort, and resources to STEM volunteering. I have been asked to speak to you about my experience, and STEM engagement.

I grew up as a privileged schoolgirl in Nigeria and chose to pursue my career in Electronic and Electrical Engineering because of frequent power cuts I experienced. My siblings and I were not allowed to watch TV during the week, so we always looked forward with excitement to the weekend when we could binge-watch.

Mike, Lu and Og – an American-Russian animated series was my favourite cartoon and Cartoon Network aired marathons of it on Saturdays. When I reflect on this, I always remember the frustration I felt when a power cut occurred suddenly while watching that cartoon… It’s infuriating! I can’t quite describe it, but it made me decide to become an engineer, so I could fix the power. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you choose to view the pace of engineering advancement in Nigeria, it is still one of my ambitions which I am currently working towards.

I became a STEM volunteer when I came to study at Loughborough University in the UK. We didn’t have those at my school in Nigeria back in the day but now thankfully, we do. My motivations for becoming a STEM volunteer where somewhat selfish – I was a shy undergraduate, with little to no interpersonal skills, a fear of public speaking, and public engagement. I became a STEM volunteer to overcome these personal challenges and poured more energy into it when I was awarded a scholarship to pursue my PhD. I basically practised my public speaking on every interested school pupil before attending any international conferences on wind energy and advanced signal processing. Children ask the most difficult questions and if my presentation made the cut, I knew I was ready to blow the minds of the experts and industry leaders at the conference.

STEM volunteering helps you develop so many skills that have a positive impact on your professional and personal life but most importantly, you help to inspire and encourage someone else – which is fantastic and crucial for the future of our industry.

We however lack diversity in STEM… Diversity of thoughts, opinions, perspectives and experiences. According to experts at Deliotte, diversity of thought refers to a concept that all of us know intuitively and experience differently throughout our lives. Each human being has a unique blend of identities, cultures, and experiences that inform how he or she thinks, interprets, negotiates, and accomplishes a task.

Diversity is about everyone and not just the underrepresented groups. It is not about presence, it’s about thriving. Diversity is about increasing people’s actual participation not just their symbolic participation i.e. numbers or statistics. The environment must be conducive to people from underrepresented groups to thrive.

As Scientists, Technologists, Engineers, and Mathematicians, we develop solutions in anticipation of or in response to societal needs. The society we live in, is very diverse and this needs to be reflected in the team of innovators and problem solvers.

Research by Investors in People suggests that working with other people who are very different to us makes us more creative, diligent, and hard-working. We create something better than we could do on our own, and this is best achieved when we feel comfortable working in these scenarios.

So tonight, I challenge you inspirational STEM Volunteers to support and create opportunities in STEM for someone different to you…

If you are white, support someone who is not;

If you are male, support someone who is not;

If you are heterosexual, support someone who is not;

If you are without disability (learning or physical), support someone who is not;

If you are from a privileged background, support someone who is not;

If you are experienced (in age or expertise), support someone who is not;

If you are a STEM volunteer, convince and support a colleague who is not;

If you are surrounded in your workplace by people who think exactly like you, support someone who does not;

And vice-versa.

You will be amazed by the insight, perspective, and new skills you develop.

My challenge to you this evening is essentially a free voluntary unconscious bias training and I hope you will take it up. I know you are all capable of succeeding at it and it is my wish that your actions will encourage others to get involved in STEM volunteering to foster a truly inclusive and diverse industry where everyone thrives!

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