Making engineering attractive and accessible to under-represented groups at IT firm Arm

4 minute read

For some corporate social responsibility is just another source of pressure or a passing fad. For others it’s as an important marketing tool to ensure the organisation is seen in a positive light or it’s a recruitment initiative. But for engineering and IT company Arm, it’s about creating a paradigm shift in the engineering industry. Simon Humphrey, senior manager within Arm's sustainability team, shares Arm's CSR journey 

Encouraging diversity in STEM

Our relationship with The Smallpeice Trust started more than six years ago. As a not-for-profit organisation The Smallpeice Trust was founded over 50 years ago by the brilliant British engineer Dr Cosby Smallpeice. who ploughed £1.6m of his personal fortune into giving young people, especially girls, the role models and experiences to fuel their passion for engineering.

At the time I was the corporate responsibility manager focusing on partnerships in education. Naturally due to the nature of our business we were interested in supporting the development of excellence in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

We wanted to work with an organisation who wanted to work with us to make a real change in society. What was particularly attractive to us was not only the Smallpeice Trust’s goal to reduce gender inequality in engineering but also socio-economic diversity. For us, finding an association directly aligned to our thinking was key to making the impact we wanted. Hand in hand with The Smallpeice Trust we have worked to address this imbalance and are starting to see an engineering evolution.

Engineering UK’s 2018 state of engineering report highlighted female underrepresentation in the industry where just 12 per cent are female. This disparity is largely due to girls dropping out of the educational pipeline, despite generally performing better than boys in STEM subjects at school. The fact is that girls are less likely to consider themselves as an engineer.

We invested our time and money into being one of The Smallpeice Trust’s partners, providing an insight into the world of engineering for students and working to achieve a paradigm shift in people’s thinking. We host engineering experience days and offer students the opportunity to connect with real-world engineers, doing real-world engineering in real-world contexts.

In the early stages we saw what The Smallpeice Trust was trying to achieve and, by working closely with them, today we are proud to confirm that we now achieve a 50:50 balance of male to female delegates on all the Smallpeice Trust’s courses.

But not only has a gender balance been achieved we have also worked to attract students from all socio-economic backgrounds. Initially we noticed that many of the students from less advantaged backgrounds felt lucky to have been on a Smallpeice Trust residential course but weren’t taking ownership of their potential. We wanted to show them a pathway to genuinely give them a belief in their potential.

Then in 2018 The Smallpeice Trust incorporated the Arkwright Engineering Scholarship into its offering; launched nearly 20 years ago it is the most prestigious scholarship scheme of its type in the UK.

The scholarships were designed to enrich students’ experiences throughout their A-Levels, Scottish Advanced Highers or equivalent, to inspire them to acquire life, leadership and engineering skills. Aside from financial support, Arkwright Scholars receive a wealth of knowledge and experience from partners like ourselves, who host scholarship days at our offices to discuss each student’s interests and support them as they learn more about engineering.

Because the Arkwright Engineering Scholarship Programme is designed to inspire the best and brightest young leaders to pursue their dreams through engineering, historically it did tend to attract students from more privileged backgrounds, something we all wanted to address; not that we wanted to turn away boys or those from advantaged backgrounds, we wanted to make it completely open to everyone!

Through working with The Smallpeice Trust we had already achieved our goal of reaching a gender and socio-economic balance in terms of students on the day and residential courses, but we wanted to start to nurture the talent of these Smallpeice Trust students to give them all the opportunity to apply for an Arkwright Engineering Scholarship.

Due to the definition of the Arkwright Engineering Scholarships there was the potential for an unconscious bias towards students from more privileged backgrounds. However, the scholarships are open to students with emotional intelligence, creativity, teamwork skills and those who take risks. These are the students who make great engineers, regardless of their background. We want to see the students who have made the best of the opportunities they’ve had; not just for Arm but for the whole industry.

Arkwright is about helping everyone to consider a career in engineering. We want to attract those students, who, if engineering were made illegal, would still want to do it regardless of their background.

The Gatsby Benchmarks show that connected experiences have a lot more opportunity to be transformational. Our connected and positive relationship with The Smallpeice Trust is ensuring that more students are aware of all the opportunities available to them. Since we started our partnership with The Smallpeice Trust we have worked hard to increasingly make such opportunities attractive and accessible to students from underrepresented segments of society. We have certainly been very successful at bringing people in who wouldn’t have considered this before, nor considered a career in STEM. but we still have a long way to go.

While the balance is improving year on year, hand in hand with The Smallpeice Trust we will continue to strive towards our goal and that of the UK engineering industry.

Simon Humphrey (pictured below) is senior manager within Arm's sustainability team and on the Board of Trustees for the Engineering Development Trust (EDT)

Simon Humphrey, senior manager in Arm's sustainability team

Published 13 May 2020

The fact is that girls are less likely to consider themselves as an engineer

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