Differences make us stronger - International Women's Day (Day 285)

Differences make us stronger - International Women's Day (Day 285)

8th March 2015

Diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means that each individual is unique and that there is a need to recognise our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of age, sexuality, disability, race, religion, social background or gender.

It can be a very sensitive topic. On the political landscape there are issues around immigration and skills. At a more personal level, many people are conscious of the need to avoid discriminatory behavior and to avoid causing offence. Yes, it's a tricky business, but I firmly believe that diversity is something that should underpin everything we do. And I am reminded of the quote attributed to the leading business thinker and author, Stephen R, Covey, who once remarked: "Strength lies in differences, not in similarities".

Gender, culture, age, background and life experience bring different perspectives to the table, enriching us all in the process.

Today is International Women's Day, and on this day we will focus on the achievements of women and the drive for equality. This year's theme is 'Make it happen'.

I believe, as I'm sure you do, that chemical engineers make it happen. I am proud that, relative to many other engineering disciplines, chemical engineering is a diverse profession, but I am also aware that there is more to be done.

Hessa Al-Nesf with Neil Atkinson, IChemE director of qualifications and international development

Last year, IChemE celebrated the award for the first Incorporated Engineer (IEng) in Qatar. And it was even more significant that the recipient was a woman. Hessa Mohammed Al Nesf, a corporate planning analyst at Qatargas, became the first Qatari national to be awarded the IEng qualification.

I was delighted to meet Hessa and congratulate her during my recent visit to Qatar.

This achievement is particularly important because it demonstrates the commitment of a company, and an individual, to professional excellence. Hessa is a role model for others.

A recent report by McKinsey outlined the vision of gender diversity in leadership roles across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states – delivering this vision will be beneficial to business in the Middle East.

All human beings are different – that means the barriers I experience may be different to those faced by others. The solutions may be different too. We should all be aware of this and open our eyes and our minds. Large-scale changes occur over generations but I firmly believe that embracing diversity in all its forms will, and must, happen.

There has been some debate as to whether IChemE should promote and champion diversity. My view is - yes absolutely!

IChemE’s mission embraces four key aims:

1. to build and sustain an active international professional community, united by a commitment to qualifications and standards that foster excellence, relevance and esteem and the delivery of benefits to society

2. to engage with others to promote the development, understanding and use of chemical engineering and the appreciation of its importance

3. to provide support and services to individuals, employers and others at all career stages who contribute to the practice and application of chemical engineering

4. to enable chemical engineers to interact and communicate with each other and with other disciplines

Diversity is important to achieving  these aims. That's why IChemE is a signatory to initiatives including the Royal Academy of Engineering Diversity Concordat, the Science Council Declaration on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion and the Your Life Campaign.

As well as supporting these initiatives we are also implementing work programmes that deliver the ambition set out in these statements. IChemE Fellow, Jane Atkinson, is IChemE's diversity champion.

I look forward to a society where men and women are afforded the same opportunities wherever they are in the world.

The United Nations' campaign, HeForShe, states that gender equality is not only an issue for women, it's a human rights issue too. Leaders and influential figures around the world are pledging their support, and I urge everyone in our profession to do likewise.

Just as chemical engineers champion process safety and sustainability – we should do the same for diversity.

IChemE is looking for champions and role models in all its areas of activity. So if you have any good examples that show a commitment to diversity in action, get in touch via the blog or comment below.